God Pleasing Faith, Godís Faith Witnesses, Lesson 22, Hebrews 12:1-3
As an introduction to our next lesson on faith I want to draw some conclusions from what we have studied so far in the subject of faith.
God has led us through the lives of many examples of men and women of faith and we can learn by these examples that faith will bring one along many roads of varying lengths, widths, surface types, rough or smooth, thru hills, thru mountains or thru plains.
Abel, along with Abraham, Moses and David were shepherds, Noah was called to be a builder for God.
Joseph was given to be a governor, Joshua was called to be a warrior, Samuel a prophet, and our Lord began as a carpenter, called to preach, called to heal, and called to die in our stead.
Faith has many calls and the lesson we must take in is that God is the caller.
God is the decider, God is the decision maker, and God is the Master.
Faith teaches us that there is no robotic pattern to Godís call and we should guard against establishing a pattern of life that fits into what we think a testimony of faith should look like.
It is easy to erect in our minds acceptable Christian patterns of life whereby if we fit into those patterns we will receive approval from fellow believers.
Perhaps our child declares he wants to be a preacher or a missionary and we are thrilled at that prospect.
But donít come to a conclusion so fast.
This certainly sounds wonderful but is this Godís call, is this Godís will?
What would our Pastor think if one of the employees of Gospel Projects started using their work time to visit Nursing Homes?
Visiting nursing homes is wonderful and it can hardly be criticized but it is not our Pastorís will for that to be done when that employee is given to do other work.
It is not unusual for employees to drift into projects that they like to do and drift away from things that are not to their liking.
And in doing this they establish their own agenda and move away from the will of the organization from which they receive their wages.
Think about our lives and how we came to be where we are.
Think about our childrenís lives and how they came to be where they are.
Was there a time in your life where you laid your life completely at the altar of God and said to God not my will but thy will Oh, God.
Or did you just follow a pattern that has been established in your home or this church or other churches or Christian traditions that if followed would be approved by your Christian peers?
This, if done, is not done in faith for as we have seen in Hebrews 11 there is no pattern which God follows for his children.
There are no 10 steps which all are to follow in order to find Godís will for your life.
The message of faith that we must be open to, is Godís claim on your life, Godís claim on your childrenís life and that claim may take many different directions and will not necessarily follow a pattern.
We are to remember that God has bought us with a price and therefore we are to glorify God in our body, and in our spirit which now belong to God.
Men and women of faith must guard against following man approved paths of service and boldly declare themselves available to God for whatever path he has chosen for them.
How do you think the Pharisees came to be?
They came to be by following established patterns instead of studying and following the word of God and thereby seeking the will of God instead of going the ways approved by their peers.
This is religion and this is what generations move to from generations who truly follow and seek the will of God.
It is wonderful to grow up in a Christian home but watch out that approved ways of life do not substitute for God called ways of life that only come by exercising faith in God and thereby doing His will whatever that may be.
That was the introduction and now we move to the body of the lesson.
After prayer and advice from two men named Paul, one the Apostle Paul and one our own Paul Smith I believe it good and approved of God for me to keep on keeping on in this letter to the Hebrews.
For chapter 12 also has much to offer on this subject of faith and I believe it best to not automatically stop at manmade chapters for this subject transcends those chapters.
So as we say in the Navy, Belay my last as to stopping at chapter 11!
So we will read Hebrews 12:1-3, 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, 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. 3 For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.
Paul begins this passage with this statement: Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses.
This statement of Paul has been used in many various ways especially in obituaries to invent all kinds of fanciful notions about heaven.
I try to read some the daily obituaries and find many of these notions which bring to mind those who have gone before looking down on us and now looking forward to receiving loved ones who lived after them.
And many of those who died think of themselves joining this great self-imagined cloud in the same things they joined them on Earth.
Perhaps their beer drinking buddies compose the cloud, perhaps the great football game in the sky is going on and now the great cloud of fans will have another fan to join in the fun.
Of course this is just wishful thinking on the part of those who know not God, who know not His word for this phrase is placed here in Chapter 12 because it follows the wonderful chapter on faith where this great cloud is described.
Now this great cloud of witnesses is not engaged in looking at us for their attention is focused on the one in whom their faith was focused and this is God and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
They are not looking down on us as witnesses to what we are doing but their witness has been given to us in Godís word in the Old Testament and their names have been given in the wonderful faith chapter which we have studied.
The Judge asks for the witness list and the Bailiff hands over to him the list, and he is astonished that Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sara, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David and Samuel are on the list of witnesses.
God does not leave us without the testimony of those of faith for we are encouraged in faith by their witness and their witness is described as a great cloud.
God is not stingy in giving us that which it takes to believe in Him and each of the witnesses tell us of Godís faithfulness and care throughout all they were called to do in carrying out Godís will.
We are not given to come to faith blindly but are given to know of those who believed God and where that belief brought them.
So knowing this, knowing that these have given their lives to God and many in doing so have been tortured, mocked, scourged, stoned, and slain, what are we to do?
Well Paul gives to those who come after, and that includes us who believe, marching orders and those orders are to: 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,
Boy, this sounds like work is required!
Lay aside every weight and run. Did I sign up for this?
Paul, in others letters you have told us to:
walk not as other Gentiles,
to put off the former conversation of the old man,
to be renewed in the spirit of our mind,
to put on the new man,
to put away lying, and to speak truth, and:
Ephesians 4:31,32, Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: 32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.
So the answer is ďyesĒ! The life of faith is a life of work.
And the word that comes to mind in that work is endurance.
Jesus preached this message for he said in:
Matthew 10:22, And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.
As we have said before this does not have anything to do with losing your salvation but it has to do with what a person of faith is headed for.
For at the end there is a result which all people of faith can count on and that is a promise of God that all can depend on God to carry out.
And the great cloud of witnesses testify that this is so.
Paul, as are many in this Sunday School class, seems to be a sports aficionado, a sports devotee, a sports enthusiast.
I come to that conclusion by his many references to athletic contests and here he brings us to focus on the sport of running.
And the kind of running he brings us to consider is not a sprint but a marathon.
Now a sprint is always conducted on level and smooth ground.
It is designed to measure speed, not endurance.
So Paul describes a marathon race, a race today of 42.2 kilometers, or 26.2 miles, which is the distance from Milton, Fl. to Jay Fl.
Think about running a marathon and those thoughts can also be thought about running the race of faith.
It is a lifelong, race that transports one over level ground but also over hills, sometimes mountains, sometimes swamps, and rough difficult terrain.
King David said it often brought one through the valley of the shadow of death.
The marathon runner is a special runner and unless prepared by long hard preparation will fail to complete the race.
A marathon requires much self-discipline, concentration, motivation and the willingness to take on suffering.
So Paul infers that the man or woman of faith is to engage in a self-examination that is to expose what he calls weights.
Look at the marathon runner of today and you will find that through the last 100 years runnerís uniforms have been reduced in weight by pounds and today if a uniform maker can remove tenths of ounces from his uniforms, sales will increase significantly.
So as marathon runners examine the weight they carry in the physical race those of faith are to lay aside every spiritual weight and not only that but also the sin which is so harmful to living a life of faith.
Weights are encumbrances. Weights are burdens and impediments that hinder progress.
And here Paul distinguishes them from sin.
Now if you chose to run in a marathon no one would criticize you for not wearing the most up to date running shoes.
But if you changed your shoes to ones weighing half as much you would most likely reach the goal faster.
This change, this laying aside, concerns weights and weights are not necessarily wrong or sinful, they just hinder progress.
But sin is another story. Remember Rosa Ruiz who on April 21, 1980 ran the Boston Marathon and was declared the winner in the female category with the fastest time in Boston Marathon history of 2 hours 31 minutes.
It was an amazing time and accomplished without any panting, or noticeable sweating at the finish line, raced with legs flabbier and fatter than would be expected by such an accomplished runner and a heart rate of 76 compared with most marathon runners with heart rates in the 50s or lower.
Alas, it was too good to be true and it was later found out that Rosa Ruiz added the subway as a part of the race getting off near the goal line and again entering the race ahead of all other runners coming in first, but first because of sin.
Rosa tried to be a victor without playing by the rules of the game. She had a cheating heart and she sinned to get her way.
Unfortunately her cheating heart did not stop with the race for in 1982 she was arrested for embezzling $60,000 from her employers, and again arrested in 1983 for dealing in cocaine.
God desires we run the race laying aside the weights and sin that so easily beset us.
We are to run the race of faith honorably and honestly for we run the race for our God and for His honor and for His glory.
Today we live in a culture where we choose to carry weights that so easily beset us.
We choose to stay up late at night causing us to desire sleep when we ought to get up and seek first the kingdom of God instead of seeking other things which take us away from prayer and study of Godís word.
Perhaps even carrying weights that keep us from being in the house of God on time, and regularly at every opportunity the doors are opened and the Word of God is preached.
This is the age of play and recreation and leisure which many times encumbers us with weights too heavy to run the race God calls us to run.
So we give God a few minutes reading his word, and a few cursory prayers but how many minutes do we spend before the altars of our modern devices?
We say we need to keep up with the news but what does God say as far as priority is concerned?
What are we to seek first?
We are to seek first Godís kingdom for if we are people of faith we will be living there for all the endless ages of eternity.
Think about arranging a vacation to some magical Eden and all the study and details that must be taken care of before going there so when you get there you and your family will enjoy it so much more.
That is what God wants for us.
He wants us to know about where we are going to spend eternity.
He wants us to know about the finish line that is at the end of the race.
He wants us to run the race with patience always looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
Him who laid out the course that each of us is to take as we run the race, but all arriving at the same finish line, where all of us have a place prepared by His hands.
God desires that we listen to that great cloud of witnesses that we too will run the race so that God will receive the glory.