The following sermon was prepared by Ps Johann Odendaal. Click here: Hebrews 12:1-2, to download or stream the audio sermon, or click here: Hebrews 12:1-2, for the video version. Alternatively, you can read the notes below, or follow along as you watch or listen.
Scripture Reading: Hebr.12:1-2
Title: Fix your eyes on Jesus
- In chapter 12 our author focuses our attention on the greatest example of all times – Jesus Christ, the Lord. Since this book is about the supremacy of Christ, the writer now turns from the lives of OT heroes to the sufferings and achievements of Jesus Christ.
- Jesus warned his disciples in Mt.24:9 and John 16:2, that some of them would be delivered to tribulation, put to death. They would be hated by all nations for his name sake. Persecution would come to them not only by political leaders, but also by religious leaders. He told them that they would be excluded from synagogues and anyone who killed them would think they do God a favour.
- The writer now compares our life here on earth to a race that must be run with perseverance. This was something that the Apostle Paul frequently used in his letters. He depicts the Christian as an athlete, self-disciplined – someone who concentrates hard as he strives to gain an everlasting crown of glory – 1Cor.9:24-27; Gal.2:2; Phil.1:29. He movingly wrote about his own struggles at the end of his life in 2Tim.4:6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
- But where does chapter 11 leave us? What is the application of chapter 11? It is found here in Hebr.12. The writer urges us with three distinct actions: 1. We are to run the race with perseverance; 2. We are to throw off everything that hinders and, 3. We are to fix our eyes on Jesus Christ!
I. WE ARE TO RUN THE RACE WITH PERSEVERANCE – V.1
- Although we are going to look at each of them separately, they are actually one. You cannot run without looking to Jesus and you cannot cut yourself loose from weights and sin without looking to Jesus.
- The writer pictures himself and his readers as competitors. They are contending for the faith in the arena of life. He challenges them to see themselves as part of the great host called to live by faith. They are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.”
- The writer had probably in mind the Greek “footrace” – a test of fitness and endurance. It was one of the five contests of the pentathlon in the great Pan-Hellenic games and always came first. At the Olympic Games the footrace was the only contest that lasted for an extended period.
- This race is “marked out before us.” That means that God by His grace called us into this race to participate. We are not spectators. We do this for His own glory – Rom.1:6 “And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1: 3 “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
- The witnesses he refers to are those who populate the arena. But they are not observing us from afar. The text refers to them as witnesses – martus. They bear witness to the Christian community of God’s faithfulness and of the effectiveness of faith. God has given witness to them – He commended them in Hebr.11:2, 39. They as witnesses, or examples, bear witness to him before succeeding generations. They offer motivation to all Christ-followers through history to stay the course of commitment to Christ and never to give up. “It is not so much they who look at us as we who look to them – for encouragement.” (F.F. Bruce)
- Paul is explaining our obligation in this race: “I press on that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” Phil.3:12.
- Run therefore with perseverance. Keep going, for the prize we seek is not a gold medal, but the everlasting glory of the redeemed. But some might argue that Christ had already won that glory for the elect. Yet only if we run well shall we attain that. Listen to Paul in Phil.3: 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
- In 1Cor.9:24-27, Paul explains it as follows: 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
- Neither Paul nor the writer of Hebrews is teaching salvation through self-effort. What they are saying is that saving faith is demonstrated, recognized and vindicated by perseverance. It is a steady determination to keep going. It means to continue even when everything in you cries out not to. These Hebrew Christians have started well – 2:4, but as the new began to wear off and problems came their way, they began to lose their enthusiasm and confidence. They started looking back at their old ways. You cannot afford to give in. You have to keep that desire to win. Lack of desire in the Christian life is unacceptable.
- The Christian race is also not a race to outdo my fellow Christian in works of righteousness. It is a race of faith. It is to outdo Satan, this worldly system and our own sinfulness. God had given us everything we need to complete this race of faith – Eph.6:10-18. Without the help and support of the Holy Spirit you will never make it.
II. WE ARE TO THROW OFF EVERYTHING THAT HINDERS –V.1
- No one enters a race with a pair of long pants, a jacket and a tie. No he strips of everything that might hinder him/her in the competition. Those are excessive things. Onkos – weights = a bulk or a mass of something. It might not be bad in itself. It could be harmless but it will weigh you down. It could divert your attention or it could sap your energy. It could even dampen your enthusiasm for the things of God. All these things are to be thrown off.
- Some people desire to be rich. There is nothing wrong being rich, Abraham was very rich, but if the riches weigh you down then make a plan. Some wants to be popular, but if popularity becomes more important than following Christ, get rid of it. Desiring peace is not sinful, but to seek peace at any price and thereby denying Christ is a weight no Christian should carry. There is nothing wrong in being ambitious in life, but if your ambition distracts you from following Christ, you are in danger.
- The problem the writer had with these people is that they set out in the race very well (10:32-34). But they are now slackening in their will to persevere; their effort is decreasing 2:1; sin is holding them back – 3:17-4:1; they need to recover their intensity of purpose – 4:11; they have to shake of the sluggish mood into which they have fallen – 6:11f; they must regain their confidence – 10:35, 39, and their competitive spirit – 12:12.
- The “sin” that so easily entangles us. The use of the definite article may refer to one particular sin. If there is one thing that really hinders the Christian, it is unbelief or doubting God. Doubting the Lord may tie your feet in such a way that you would not be able to run.
III. WE ARE TO LOOK TO JESUS THE AUTHOR AND PERFECTER OF OUR FAITH – V.2
- There is a good reason why the writer urges us to look to Jesus. He brings Christ to us as the “Author” that means the originator and the “Perfecter” the finisher of faith. Jesus is the divine craftsman who originates and shapes our faith and He brings it to perfection. The focus is here then on the personal faith of the individual believer. For that reason then we are to look to Jesus as He will supply us with all the necessities of running the race here on earth. That is why Paul writes to us in Eph.2:8-9, that it is by grace we are saved through faith and that not of ourselves because it is the gift of God. It also means that Christ alone can perfect our faith. Only Christ brings the desired outcome of our faith as we look to Him.
- Where one looks is very important. Some of us are too preoccupied with ourselves. They put too much attention on what they must do, to the mechanics of following Christ. There is place for that, but if that becomes the main focus we will never run well for the Lord. Sometimes we are preoccupied with what other Christians are thinking and doing especially when it has to do with us. Of course we need to be concerned about others. What they think about us and even their criticism could be helpful. But if we focus on them we are bound to stumble. The Bible does not even tell us to focus on the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us to be filled with the Spirit and then we will focus on Jesus Christ as that is why He came.
- The Heroes of Hebr.11 endured hardship. They have been despised by this world. The world has always mocked the faith of the Christians. They did it with Jesus, but in faith Jesus endured the cross and despising its shame. Why should we not also trust God in everything, since we have not begun to suffer what Christ had suffered?
- Jesus also ran His race for what was at the end of it. He ran for two things: The joy set before Him and sitting down at the right hand of the Father. What was that joy? The joy of fulfilling His Father’s will; the joy of a Shepherd over His sheep; the joy of a warrior over His conquest; the joy of a King over His Kingdom; the joy of a Father over His children; the joy of a Bridegroom over His bride. Paul said in Eph1:8 that it is the glorious riches of Christ’s inheritance in the saints. The writer of Hebrews wants us then to understand the “joy of the Lord,” but also His joy in us.
- The prize Christians are to run for is not heaven. Heaven is already ours who trust completely in Christ. We run for exalting God’s supremacy in all we do, say or think. Paul referred to the Church of Philippi as his joy and crown. We run with perseverance and our eyes fixed on Jesus to be rewarded with His “well done good and faithful servant.”
- Jesus died by the lowest form of capitol punishment – the death on the cross. It was reserved for slaves and criminals. It involved both torture and public humiliation. On the cross Jesus was treated as valueless, mocked and ridiculed – He was scorned and shamed. He turned that experience inside out. He scorned the scorn. The cruelty of the cross could not weigh up against the joy that was set before Him. The end result of the cross was the glory of His Father.
- Christian, I urge you to look beyond your difficulties to God’s promised rewards.
- By implication the writer of Hebrews holds out to his readers the amazing prospect that the saved will share Christ’s glory as His eternal bride – Rev.21: 9 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.
- But they will only do so if they prove they are truly His – by their joyful loyalty and persevering commitment as they look to Jesus.
- We are to run this earthly race with perseverance; we are to throw off everything that hinders and we are to keep looking to Jesus.