The title is from Hebrews 12. What is the situation in the book of Hebrews? The Hebrew Christians were struggling in their faith because they started having doubts about Christ being the Savior, Christ being the Messiah, Jesus being the Messiah. Is he really greater than Moses or the old covenant they were part of? The Hebrews writer is calling them to keep following Christ and not lose faith in Christ and explaining who Christ is in the whole book.
In chapter 10 there is a call to persevere, to keep on in the faith and not lose their faith. And the way they are showing their lack of commitments is that they started to miss meetings. The author is telling them 'do not miss meetings, do not be in the habit of doing that. You need Christians'. Let us consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds. Here he's encouraging us 'we need Christians, we need other brothers and sisters, we need the church, we need fellowship, so do not miss meetings!' And he's encouraging them to not give up their faith, to not shrink back from their faith.
And in Hebrews 11, the writer is inspiring the Hebrew Christians about all their spiritual ancestors and reminds them how they lived by faith even though they did not get what was promised to them. You see the struggle of the writer to get the Christians back to their faith. He's inspiring them with the stories they have all heard throughout their lives, reminding them that what kept them going was their simple faith.
Finally, in chapter 12 he concludes in a beautiful way.
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
He's asking them to not give up their faith and inspired them with stories of all the great men and women of faith who stood their ground through difficult times of testing and who were willing to persevere in their faith. Then he inspires them by reminding them about the cloud of witnesses they have, who had gone ahead, who had lived by faith, who had been there to inspire and that the Hebrew Christians must now follow their example. He said that all these witnesses were there for a reason, why they are mentioned in the Bible - to give us hope, to give us faith, to give us conviction that we can do it because they had done it first.
The writer is reminding them that they were running a race. He urges them to keep running and not to give up the race. How should they run? With perseverance, without stopping in between. Then he reminds them of who their ultimate example is, the one they should follow. He reminds them to fix their eyes on Jesus. Who is Jesus? The Author and Perfecter of our faith. The word Perfecter can also be translated as Finisher. He is the one who began everything and he's the one who's going to be the finisher of our faith. The ultimate example that we have as Christians is Jesus and his example because he ran the race marked out for us. He persevered in the race even though he had to endure many hardships. Finally he showed us how to finish the race when he was on the cross.
Our Christian faith is like a race. You've heard about the Olympic marathon race. It is a very tough race because it is long and takes at least two hours for the best runner to complete it. We walk for 5 minutes and we are tired. We take a train and we are tired by that train journey even though we are not walking but sitting and travelling. We are talking about running non-stop for two hours! And that too we are talking about the best runner taking two hours! The goal of everyone who runs a marathon is not necessarily to win the race. Their goal is to finish the race.
The goal of our Christian faith is to finish well. If you watch the marathon race on T.V. you can see a lot of things happening. To finish the race you need to see some things to help you.
* You need fans who are cheering you on the side, who keep telling you to go on and that you can do it. Have you seen people standing on the road and cheering all those runners? So also we need fans.
* We need a finish line. This motivates you because you know it's going to finish at some point. Yes, as Christians we need a finish line too. We know the race we are running is so hard and it's tough to keep going as a Christian. The good news is there is a finish line and we can actually get there. Amen? It's good to have a finish line otherwise we'll just keep running and get tired.
* Also to finish well you need someone to chase. If you don't have somebody to chase you won't be motivated. If somebody is leading you want to follow. You feel, 'Yes, I want to catch him, I want to go behind him or at least to be on par with him'.
* Finally you need friends to run with. Have you noticed in a marathon race people don't run alone? They always have friends they hangout with and they keep changing the pace. They'll all run together keeping pace and then one person takes the lead and then someone else will take the lead. Basically it's team effort and they run together.
As Christians, we are running a marathon race.
1. We need a cloud of witnesses
Who are this cloud of witnesses? They are our fans.
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.
40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
In the above scripture, we see that these great men and women of faith, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what they had been promised, while they were running the race. It also says in v40 that God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. So we are all in it as a team. The people who went before us, the ones who are with us now and the ones who are going to come after us, we are all together going to make it to heaven - that is God's plan. We have a cloud of witnesses. Look at some of the witnesses in Hebrews 11. Sometimes we only see certain things as great faith.
So we applaud only the one who came first in the marathon because it was so hard and he did it! Look at one of our Indian Olympic team. Anju Bobby George was our best bet to get a medal. She came 6th and nobody was impressed! We did not look at her impressed because she had come 6th and so was the 6th best athlete in the universe. Nobody is willing to see that because our expectation is very high and we measure people in this way. We make this same mistake in the church also. We only admire certain people with certain level of things. Again, we have this terrible habit of judging one another for little, silly, things. We have to be careful how we measure others. The measure we use will be used against us.
Hebrews 11 is the Hall of Fame for people with great faith. People of great faith -that is how we define Hebrews 11. This is like in cricket people like Sachin Tendulkar, Gavaskar, Bishen Singh Bedi will enter the list if there is a book on cricket. But this is about great men of faith in the Bible. Let's see how and for what God commends them. Hebrews 11:4 onwards.
What was the greatest thing Abel did and that God was blown away by? He offered a better sacrifice than his brother. And God applauded him for doing an incredible thing. God was not looking down on Cain - he gave Cain a chance to do better.
Look at the next person -Enoch. The Bible says he did not experience death, he was taken away but what was God commending him for in this passage? He was commended as one who pleased God. We take that word 'please' very lightly when we say 'I want to please God'. We think what's the big deal about it. But we do need to please God and that's the greatest thing Enoch did. God applauded him for that. We don't know what he did or did not do that pleased God but we do know that whatever he did, it pleased God.
Noah - what is the greatest thing he did? He built an ark and saved his family. He is commended for building this ark and saving his family. He could not save the world but he saved his family. God commended him for his incredible faith. Then in v13, something very beautiful and inspiring, "all these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised. They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance." What is beautiful about these people. They were still living by faith when they died. That is our Finish Line.
When we die -our finish line- we die with faith. This is what blows my mind about one other person in the bible who God commended. V31 talks about the prostitute Rahab. Can you believe a prostitute made it into the Hall of Fame of faith? What is the greatest thing this woman did? She welcomed some spies. Basically she showed some hospitality. The greatest thing this woman did was to show hospitality to some spies. Isn't that amazing?
The Bible goes on to say these are our great cloud of witnesses who are in heaven, cheering for us to keep running the race. God commends these incredible men and women for their faith and we need to commend our brothers and sisters in our church for their faith. Can you hear the roar of cheering from our ancestral brothers and sisters who went before us? That is the beauty of it, that we are not running this race alone. We have a whole lot of people cheering as we are running this race in perseverance.
We need to cheer one another in the church. We all have hard lives in our own way. We may not see each other's life as hardship. It doesn't matter. Our own race- the struggles, the problems, the pain and all- is marked out for us by God. We need to respect that and appreciate that people are running the race. We need to cheer our brothers and sisters as they are running, because that's what our ancestors are doing for our brothers and sisters and for us.
2. We need to run together
Hebrews 12 shows the pattern. It uses the words 'we' and 'us' a lot. So we are all in it together. We need to run this race together. Isn't it better to run together than run alone? How would you feel if you were the only one running this long marathon? Starting to finish you were the only one, nobody around you cheering you, nobody running with you - you're doing all the running there is. The first day we'll run, the second day we'll run and then someone misses the next morning and you just can't do it. It's just so hard to do it on your own.
It's hard to be alone in this world and be happy and enjoy your life. We need relationships, we need bonds. We need to run together. And when you're running, pull someone else along and say, 'Come on, let's run together'. As we read, in the book of Hebrews, the Hebrew Christians started getting tired and weary and many of them stopped running. What happened? They gave up meeting together!
24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
We need each other, to work together, to run together to keep on in the race. We need to spur one another. "Come on, you can do it" is the attitude we need to have. We used to say sometimes that this word, 'spur', means we need to kick one another just like how a horse moves forward when it is kicked. The word 'spur' can also be translated 'provoke', 'stir up'. One of the ways to do this is to come together. And we've got to do it all the more as we see the Day approaching, as we see the finish line.
The ultimate question is, 'What is our schedule like from morning to night? That reflects our life, how we live as a Christian, how we live as an individual, everyday. That is a choice we have to make. In our schedule everyday where does God fit in? That is for us to decide. In our schedule where does God's family fit in? How does a family function if in their schedule there is no time for the family? Neither the wife nor the children are happy if the husband and father have no time for the family. Yes, the father is very busy, working hard, making money, taking care of the family but if he is not available and does not put into his schedule time for his wife and kids, the family will be a dysfunctional family. We need to make time for the important things in our life and God needs to be your priority. We need to seek God first.
We need to encourage each other by our lives - our holy lives, our godly lives, our committed lives, our prayerful lives. Whatever God has given us, we need to glorify God with that gift. We need to be faithful to God and God's family. We need to run together and this is the reason why we should come together - only then we can run together. Generally what our schedule is like, what we plan, what we focus on is how we are going to live. That's what the Hebrew writer is talking about - a habit. Not one time or a few times but if it is a habit then it is a matter for concern according to the scriptures.
3. We need an example to chase
Who is the example we need to chase? Who is the Author and Perfecter, Author and Finisher of our faith? It is Jesus. We need to chase his example all our lives. The race marked out for us is marked by him and is the best race for us. We think we can't run it or finish it but He has marked it for us. He has shown us by example how to keep running the race. We'll get hurt - keep running. Friends will reject us - keep running. People will abuse us - keep running. People will call us the devil - keep running. People will insult us - keep running. We will be dying all alone, people still mocking - keep running. Because Jesus did it, we can also do it. That is why he's the perfect example.
We need to follow the example of Jesus in our lives - the author and perfecter of our faith - and not the men and women in this room. We can inspire each other but we are not the PERFECT example. If we're looking at someone and running, we're going to be disappointed after some time. Keep looking at Jesus. Fix our eyes on Jesus as the Bible says. We will finish the race. We have started the race and we've been running the race for a long time now. Maybe we're not running with our whole heart, something is pulling us down, something is entangling us and stopping us from running ahead. The Bible says we must get rid of all that entangles us. Fix our eyes on Jesus. Endure the race. Finish the race. We have a cloud of witnesses cheering us on. We've got to run together. We have Jesus as our example.