Looking to Jesus

Scripture: Hebrews 12:1-30, Hebrews 11:
People try to break running race records every year. The Bible speaks of the Christian life as a race. In Hebrews there are many Bible characters who ran the race of life. They were not competing for a perishable wreath, but an imperishable crown.
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Much has been written in sports magazines about the amazing athletes who have bested the four-minute mile. For years it was the tempting carrot that led Olympic runners to keep on pacing and practicing for that coveted victory. Every runner wanted to be the first to break that magic four-minute world record. Now it has happened of course, not once, but several times. The old speed and endurance records are being shattered quite regularly now as the marathoners aim for still greater achievements.

Did you know friends, that the Bible has quite a bit to say about people who are running races for prizes? Listen to this text in Hebrews 12:1, "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us." You will notice here that Paul calls this earthly life a race. Every human being is engaged in a tremendous contest to win a prize which fadeth not away, the crown of eternal life. In running this race, or living this life, Paul suggests that there are many weights and sins which hinder and impede the progress on the course. Listen, nobody can run successfully while carrying a heavy weight or burden. But before we read further, let's find out who these witnesses are who compass us about, and who inspire us in running this race.

The text began, "wherefore seeing we also are compassed about." That "wherefore" means that something has gone before and so we just move back to the preceding chapter to find out who the witnesses are. And there in Hebrews 11, we find God's great honor roll of faith. You should take the time to read it in its entirety, friends. The names of great men and women who prevailed and won the championship as far as God was concerned. Their names are sometimes small, but they were people of gigantic faith. But the interesting thing is that all of them had weights to get rid of. Now, those weights consisted of habits, weaknesses, and sins. But in spite of those weights, they finally rose above them by faith, and rid themselves of those things which held them back in their spiritual progress. Listen, friend of mine, the eleventh chapter of Hebrews was written just so you may have hope and courage today. These people who prevailed with God were men of like passions as we are. They were not perfect by any means, and most of them faced a more hostile environment than we will ever have to combat.

As we read about these various heroes of God, will you please notice that they all excelled through faith. We could spend hours of time talking about this matter of winning the victory by faith, but let's read verse 5 concerning Enoch, the overcomer. "By faith, Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God." Most people today think about Enoch as a long bearded old man, but the fact is that when he fought some of his fiercest battles he was just a youth. It was no easier for Enoch than it is for those living today. It was a struggle, of course! Life is never easy when we live it on the higher levels. We learn surrender and spiritual communion only through titanic struggles of the will. What an encouragement it should be for us to see how Enoch witnesses to a life of victory. He gained such an experience that he was finally translated without tasting death, the first among ten to be taken to those heavenly realms without dying.

Go on down that list and you will discover the name of Abraham, the father of the faithful. He also developed his religious experience a step at a time. He made many mistakes. He even told some lies. You will find them recorded in the Bible, but he learned by those past experiences. He overcame the sins as they appeared until finally he was completely sanctified.

Moses is another man whose name appears in that honor roll of faith. We remember him as a person of great anger and vengeance. He slew an Egyptian once in a moment of uncontrolled temper. Now here is a witness for the most hopeless of men. How often we've seen those who repented of their wicked tempers and sought to gain the victory in this area. Moses bears witness today that it's possible for such a person to become the meekest man in all the world. Friends, isn't that encouraging for you? There is hope for the violent, the angry, the wrathful. Why are these things recorded? So that we might take courage and realize that there is victory also for us.

We continue reading in this honor chapter in the Bible and we come to verses 30 and 31: "By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace." Now friends, here is something that is almost unbelievable. It's the example of a wicked woman, completely abandoned to her scarlet life in that wicked city of Jericho. How can she witness and encourage us today? Why is she included in this cloud of witnesses spoken of by Paul in Hebrews 11? Well my friends, if Rahab can gain the victory and be saved anybody can do the same thing. Just try to picture her abandonment to evil as she lived out her life in that city of Jericho. But then word came to her of the Israelites coming across the Jordan River. She heard about the miraculous parting of the water. Some people doubted, but Rahab believed. She yielded her mind and heart to the belief that this was the true God of all the world, the God of Israel. Do you think it was hard for Rahab? Of course it was. More than you and I will ever know. But she perceived the true God. She leaned toward Him, and He saved her. When those walls fell she was spared. Her name will be found among the progenitors of Jesus Christ Himself. She was an ancestor of the Messiah because of her faith. The Bible says here that she obtained a good report. In fact, we read on down in verse 39, "And these all, having obtained a good report through faith. ..." This means then that Rahab will be saved along with Abraham and Moses and all of the others.

Here are a few more listed in verse 32, "And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions," and so forth. Now friends, you can very well recognize that these were not perfect men by any means. Some of them, like David, actually murdered and committed adultery. Some like Samson were illicit and worldly. But, the beautiful fact remains that every single one finally overcame their sins. They repented sincerely and turned away from their sins, gaining a complete victory by the power and grace of God. That's the encouraging part so far as we are concerned.

Notice some of the deeds that these people did: "Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weaknesses were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented." Now have you heard of anybody in this modern day having to suffer like that? Why friends, these people had more weights and obstacles to overcome than we have. It was not a simple easy process by which they were sanctified at last.

Now notice verses 39 and 40, "And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect." This tells us that the only reason they are pictured, is so that we can see ourselves. They're not going to be saved without a lot of us being right there at the same time to be saved with them. Perhaps your weight is the very same one that some of those people shared. If so, you can cast it off by the same strength and power that they appropriated. By faith they overcame; so can you. Perhaps they were much weaker than you are today, but by reaching out to take hold of God's strong arm they gained the victory. Moses had a temper that was practically uncontrollable. Is that your weight today? By submitting to God you can become the meekest of individuals.

Samson loved worldliness, yet finally he obtained a good report through faith. Rahab was married to sin and still she was lifted up to the very family of Christ. David was lustful and wicked, but he was made over again so that he became a man after God's own heart. Listen, now we come to the beautiful part of the story. How is purity brought out of impurity? How did these people obtain their good report? Read it in Hebrews 12:2: "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." There is the answer, friends. This is how the victory was gained. By looking to Jesus we can overcome. These men and women are mighty witnesses of what it is possible to accomplish through Him, but Jesus is the power to actually get it done.

Listen, do you think a man can look at Jesus and continue to be vengeful? To cherish impure thoughts? To swell with pride and vanity? Of course not. It makes a man perfect when he keeps looking to Christ. Yes, we're all running a race, Paul says, along with Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David and many others. We're striving for the victory in the race for eternal life. The weights are all the same, for us and for them. They must be cast off in the same manner that they cast them aside. The greatest race of all was run by Jesus before us. From the manger to the grave and then to the throne above, He led the way for us by showing how to live a life of complete victory. By looking to Jesus we may also gain that same victory.

In verse 2, we read some of the most astonishing words: "Looking unto Jesus ... who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." Friends, can you imagine what joy there could be in the experience of Calvary? For a long time I didn't understand what this verse meant. How could it have been a joy for Jesus to endure that cross and the shame and everything else involved with it? Well, this plainly tells us that it was for the joy that was set before Him. That joy was to open up the gates of the New Jerusalem for us. The thing which brought Him down to this earth to endure the cross and despise the shame was the joy of seeing you saved. What love is involved here! He was not content to merely deal with angels. He came down to live with fallen man and to run the loneliest race that has ever been run. There was no stumbling with Him. Poor, friendless, forsaken, finally cruelly crucified, He ran the race for you and for me. Would you learn to be perfect, friend? Then look to Jesus.

Verse 3 goes on to say, "For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin." Ah, listen, it says to consider what Jesus did in winning the race before us. Then we should take courage and by that same power press on to overcome ourselves. But the trouble is that many have not resisted unto blood.

You know friends, it's not easy to fight against these habits and dispositions of the soul. It's much easier to just yield to our bad temper than to resist it. It's much easier to go along with all the fleshly habits instead of trying to curb them. The secret is found right here in this verse, "they have not resisted unto blood." Many are not willing to pay the price of winning the victory over self.

How much time does the average Christian spend in praying and weeping over his sins? How much faith goes into that striving too? Paul doesn't tell us very much in his brief account of it here in Hebrews 11. He doesn't tell us how many hours David spent weeping and praying over his transgressions. But, friends, you can be sure of at least one thing, every single one of these individuals contained in God's great honor roll of faith were men and women who prevailed through much prayer and agonizing application of will.

Even in the experience of Jesus we have only a few words of description concerning that anguish and suffering. Many of them resisted unto blood even as Jesus did. Ah, friends are you willing to lay aside the weights today and go through to victory, looking to Him as the only One who can give you that strength and power? Will you get in earnest today in running this race? The victory is in sight. The cross is near. We must hold fast and press on courageously and faithfully in the race, because the end is just ahead. May God help you to put away all the extra baggage and let nothing hold you back of weights and sins. Run with patience the race that is set before you and win the prize of eternal life.

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