Holy Spirit, come and work in my heart through the Gospel. Live in my heart. Lead my eyes to remain focused on Jesus, my Savior, so that I may run my race with joy. Use the example of the faithful believers recorded in Scripture as encouragement for me in my race. Show me and assure me that the race I run is like theirs and that just as they were safely brought to heaven, so will I be brought safely home. Bless us all in worship and equip us to be ever watchful for Jesus’ return. Amen.
Faith is the evidence of things not seen. Children of God through the ages have built their hope and confidence on the sure Word of God. They have faced hardships, attacks from others, their own doubts, the trials of life, but yet remained focused on their Savior and the heavenly home to which they were travelling. The writer to the Hebrews compiles a large list of examples from the lives of Old Testament believers to demonstrate their Spirit-worked faith and how they ran their earthly race by trusting in Jesus, their Savior.
On the Last Day, Jesus will separate believers from unbelievers. Believers do not inherit eternal life because of their good works, but Jesus does point to their good works as evidence of the saving faith which lives in their hearts. The unbelievers' hearts are empty and do not trust in Jesus. As a result, they are still in their sin and will be lost eternally.
Text: Hebrews 12:1-2
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 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 has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
In Christ Jesus who will be at Home when He brings us there, dear fellow-redeemed:
What is it that makes your home “home” for you? It is undoubtedly a combination of things. Home may be home because of the people—Mom and Dad, Husband, Wife, or if you live alone, it may be the memory of those with whom you made a home in earlier years. Home may be home because it is comfortable and it is where you keep the gifts that God has given you—your furniture, your kitchen, your workshop, your memories, your pictures. Home may be home because it is the place where you can relax and be yourself. At home you don’t have to wear a uniform, you don’t have to punch a time-clock, you can just relax, be at home, and be yourself. Home is home because it is where you receive your sustenance, where you prepare and eat most of your meals. Home may be home because it is a place of safety—a place where you can go to at night, lock the doors, and feel secure. Home is a refuge, a place where the rest of the world fades into the background while you are in your own world of your contentment.
All of these things that make our earthly home the treasured place that it is are also the things that make heaven our true home. The people who will be there—all believers living face-to-face with God. It will be a place to be yourself in all the glory of a resurrected body, and a place to relax with no more sin, no more burden. It will be a place of eternal sustenance for body and soul in the presence of God and a place of eternal refuge where you will be forever safe in His loving presence.
By faith, we know that this home exists (cf. epistle reading). We can’t see it. We’ve never been there, but we know it is real because God says so. By faith you have a home to which you are running. By faith, through the blessings of your Savior you will reach that home and live there forever. This morning, we RUN HOME! To do so we I. Get rid of the burden and run with endurance and II. Keep focused on Jesus and run for joy.
The writer to the Hebrews uses the long catalog of faithful believers from the Old Testament (cf. chapter 11) and says, “Therefore, we also…” He puts us right into the same category as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Barak, Deborah, and all the others he mentioned because they were sinners like we are. They lived on the earth while running toward home. They lived through their time on earth seeking a heavenly country—a place where there is no more sorrow and they would live eternally with God.
The writer says that these witnesses of faith—all of the people he mentioned plus others—are examples for us. They are witnesses that there is a home to which to run. They are witnesses that yes, it is a race; yes, it is strenuous at times; and yes, you need to train, but they are witnesses that the runners can persevere. We too, can get through this life and reach our heavenly home.
So the writer to the Hebrews says, because we have all these witnesses who have run the race, let us run in the same way. First of all, run by laying aside every weight that burdens us.
If you consider the names that were mentioned in our epistle reading, there were many burdens to be borne. King David is mentioned. He faced many severe battles, including the one with Goliath. Abraham is mentioned, he faced the doubts of going to a country he didn’t know and trusted that he and his family inherit it, even though he didn’t have any children at that time and would himself never own more than a burial plot. The writer speaks of the Judges, of believers being persecuted, sawn in two, and mistreated. These heroes of faith faced every kind of imaginable turmoil of body and soul, but they cast those weights aside and ran with endurance. They persevered.
We have many weights as well. As any runner knows, the more weight you put upon yourself, the harder it is to run and the more quickly you will grow weary. The more we lay upon our shoulders the weight of life in this world, the more weary we will become in our run of faith. So we are encouraged to run home but get rid of the weight.
The weight can be all the challenges we face, the individual sorrows, the emotional struggles—whatever is a care in your mind is a weight you are carrying. What is a care for you may not be a care for me, but I’m sure to have one of my own to offset what you have. Peter encourages us to “Cast all your cares on [Jesus] because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). In day to day life I may burden myself if I listen to gossip instead of the truth. As I hear stories, I may burden myself either by worrying about a situation that may not even be real; or I’ll burden myself with thinking ill thoughts of someone else and then burden myself (and others) even more as I go forward with false information. I may burden myself with anger. If I get angry at every little thing, I’m burdening myself with that emotion and struggle, with the lack of satisfaction, the lack of peace, the lack of rest. If I’m dealing with everything in anger and haste, I’m weighing myself down and I’m likely to burn out in my run of faith. If I grow frustrated and weary with what I don’t have and with what is not going right instead of focusing on how God is blessing me and the things He is giving me, I’m going to add weight. Then I’m going to be burdened and I will lose endurance.
You can be sure that the Devil is seeking every way he can think of to add more weight on us as we run the race of faith toward Home. He does this because another thing about weight is that it distracts us from our purpose. If you were running a race and had more weight than you could really carry, you wouldn’t be thinking about the road in front of you, you wouldn’t be thinking about the goal, your mind would be focusing on all the weight that is making it so hard to run. “I don’t even care about the goal! I just want to live for two more steps under this monstrous weight!!” Bringing Christian runners to that point is the Devil’s plan. If he can pile up the weights of life and have us carry them so that we’re distracted from the goal, from the path, and from the others running with us with the result that we end concentrating on the weight and all of a sudden say, “It’s too much” and stop running, then he wins.
Rather, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Not only are cares and concerns present, but also temptations. We can be running weight free, but if we are running down a path of sin, it is no better in our race toward Home. So, lay aside those things that would ensnare us. Lay aside those temptations that seem to keep catching us in sin. Strive through the working of God and using His word to put away those things that are sinful in our lives. Then run with endurance. Run weight-free because the weights are on Christ, and sin-free because He has equipped us to live for Him in our race of faith.
And let us run with endurance the race. It is a race. It does take strength and we should RUN it. It is a race and it takes strength because of the weight that the Devil is trying to pile on us. We have to keep taking it off and putting it on Christ. It is a race because of the sin. It takes strength and training to run our race successfully. We need to go to the Word daily and again revisit what God calls sin and get it out of our lives. We need to again revisit the Gospel to strengthen our faith and increase our love for Him. We need to train. We need to be daily in the Word.
Imagine if you had an athlete who trained, who was ready to run the race, who was capable of running the race, but then he just walked, and went lazily toward the finish line. We wouldn’t expect that and it wouldn’t happen. An athlete who is well trained, who is ready to run, RUNS that race! So the writer to the Hebrews encourages us to RUN! Do not lollygag through life, do not to meander our way, (yawn) ho-hum. We have a goal! We have a purpose! We have a path and we are trained by God in His word to run and not walk, to work and to serve and to glorify him!
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Solomon’s advice is really rather practical even from an earthly standpoint, but think of it from a Christian standpoint through the eyes of faith and the Gospel. We have a goal, there are many souls who need salvation. We have a goal to run for our own lives as well. RUN IT! PURSUE IT! and serve our Lord as we do it!
We run the race that is set before us through our Christian lives, seeking to follow God’s will in all that we do and how we conduct our selves. We run the race that is set before us when we share the Gospel. God has set before us the commission to preach the Gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15). These are part of the race that has been laid in front of us.
Another part is our own individual callings. It can never be over-stated that each of us has calling from God. He has given each of us gifts to use in that calling. That calling my alter in the course of our lifetime, that calling may grow and then shrink in terms of what we are able to do, but no matter who you are, no matter what your age, no matter what gifts and abilities you have been given, God has a calling, and a purpose, a ministry for YOU.
You run the race that is set before you when through His guidance and with His Word you seek to find what that calling is, pursue it, run through it, and serve God all the way.
This race is one we may run with joy even as Jesus did His work with joy. The writer to the Hebrews continues, “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 has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” [v.2] Jesus is the author of our faith for it is the good news of His work of redemption that the Holy Spirit uses to create faith in our hearts. He is the finisher of our faith because it is through His Word and the Gospel news that we are kept strong and preserved in the faith. The Holy Spirit uses the news of Jesus to help us beat back the attacks of the Devil, the world, and our flesh. It is Jesus who began and will finish our faith, bringing us to our eternal goal. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:2-4,6).
Jesus is the beginning, middle, and end of our faith and therefore of our run toward home. Jesus had a run of his own. He, the eternal Son of God, came to be our Savior. His run involved setting aside His divine honor and glory for a time to be our Servant and to die on the cross. Paul describes this to the Philippians, “He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8). That was not an easy run for Jesus to make. It was certainly not a step up to become man and be our servant, but he did it for us and for the joy He would have.
When that run began to enter its final phases, in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed mightily, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus would have gladly accepted release from His suffering and pain, but not if it meant the loss of souls. Because the way of salvation had to include His suffering and death, God did not spare Him but offered up His only Son.
Even though Jesus endured the suffering, the death, the shame, the ridicule, He did it with joy. It was not joyful to be spit upon, it was not joyful to be mocked, and to be whipped, and to be killed, and it was not joyful to bear the sins of the world and endure hell itself for all people, but Jesus looked to the goal: the joy of knowing that through His suffering, souls would be saved. That joy had been prophesied in Isaiah when Isaiah wrote in chapter 53, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied…” (Isaiah 53:10-11).
“He shall see the reward of his work and be satisfied.” Jesus could look ahead beyond the shame, the suffering, the death, and see the glorious results of what He was doing. Out of love for you and out of the joy at the prospect of earning salvation for sinners and enjoying eternity with you, He gave Himself up to death.
So we too can run with joy. Run with Jesus, keeping your eyes focused on Him knowing that we’re not living this life for ourselves. So, if I don’t accumulate as much as the next guy, that’s ok. Keeping eyes focused on Jesus means that I know if I’m sick or going through a hard time physically, that’s God’s will and He’s using it to bring me home. Keep eyes focused on Jesus and run with joy if people ridicule you for what you believe. Keep eyes focused on Jesus to run down the path of pleasing God by following his commandments even if friends laugh and go another way, Why endure all this? Because Jesus is worth it! Because Jesus is my Savior and I want all people to know it! So I’ll run home, eyes focused on Jesus, eyes focused on heaven, knowing that I’m going home and not being overly concerned with what I’m leaving behind.
As we run toward home we will enjoy life on this earth. We will have blessings from God and have enjoyable seasons. Its like being at a friend’s house and enjoying it there, but then its time to leave and go home. When the time here is done we won’t want to stay because of the glory that awaits us there.
Paul, at the end of his life, told Timothy… “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Paul had completed his calling. Paul had served his lord, not perfectly, because he was s inner, but by God’s grace he had served the Lord and completed his work. So, “finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
There is a crown of life awaiting you, at home. Run home, by faith! Amen.
—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt