Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.3 Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. 4 After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.
12 So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. 13 Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong. 14 Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. 15 Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.
-Hebrews 12:1-4, 12-15 (NLT)
In the sports world these days there is a hashtag called #GOAT: Greatest of All-Time. It is a lot of fun to discuss who the greatest baseball, football, basketball or hockey players are of all time may be and discussions can get heated. (I have no opinion on any of this: Ruth, Brady Jordan and Gretsky.) For the author of Hebrews, there was but one Greatest of All-Time: Jesus Christ and he is greater than all who had gone before him. He is the ultimate high priest and stands as the single point of union between a fallen world and a holy God.
As the author of Hebrews concludes his letter, he paints a glorious final scene. It is an image with which anyone in the first century Greco-Roman culture would have been most familiar. It is a packed coliseum where people are enthusiastically gathered to watch an athletic contest in the Olympic tradition. Anticipation and enthusiasm are high. Old timers tell their grandchildren about the greats of yesterday and grandchildren dream of being the greats of tomorrow.
For me, this feels like Opening Day at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Generations of fans roar and remember, the current players are introduced and honored above all are the heroes of yesterday in Red jackets. Gibson, Brock, The Wizard, Herzog, Sutter, LaRussa, Carpenter, Edmunds and the list goes on. Standing with them are heroes we see no more; Stan the Man, Mize, Boyer, Hornsby, Schoendienst, Slaughter and Dizzy Dean. And then the players on today’s roster line the field in perfect rows for the National Anthem and in that one moment, Cardinal Nation; past, present and future stand together in a Red Sea that smells like beer and hot dogs and cheer for this one team, in this one place; on this one day. It is such a compelling picture that the author of Hebrews paints for his audience.
V. 1 Since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses The author of Hebrews loved to talk about the saints of the Old Testament. In a very real sense, he is using the Salvation History Hall of Fame to try to motivate the lackluster, soft and weary modern players to whom he writes. Now near the end of his letter; he recalls saints like Abraham, Noah, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Joshua and Enoch; they are the great cloud of witnesses. In that same way, we too are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. Mary, Peter, John, Paul, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Mother Teresa and Billy Graham. They root with the angels for us to be effective in our mission; they root for salvations to be won, people to be loved and disciples to be made. When we get it right, they roar from the heavens!
Christ Church exists for only one reason: To Connect People with Jesus Christ. That is our sole objective; it is all we do, it is our win.
Since the saints are rooting for us, let us:
- Strip off what slows us down What is slowing you down? What is occupying your mind other than Jesus? Whatever it is, let it go!
- Lay aside the sin that trips us up There are many ways to miss God’s mark in a human life but for most people, there is one sin that is their stumbling block. Is it your love of sin, money, anger, lust, dysfunction or your love or loathing of self? It is your fear, doubt, past pain or apathy? Lay it aside.
- And run God’s race with endurance The Greek word for endurance, does not just mean to finish a race without quitting; there is a learning curve attached to it. Endurance is the long haul stamina required to keep us on mission, not give up and to lead us to victory. You don’t win without endurance.
V. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus Like Peter climbing out of a boat during a storm on the Sea of Galilee; we will walk on water to the extent we stay focused on Jesus. We are effective as a church to the extent we keep our eyes on Jesus.
Now the author reminds us of who Jesus is:
- The Champion Jesus paid the ultimate price for our sin on a cross, won the victory over death on resurrection morning and is coming back for his church. He is the #GOAT! He is the champion!
- Initiator With the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, God made his play to win the salvation of the world. Jesus would have to succeed in the worst of conditions where Adam had failed under the best of conditions. And because Jesus was the one who started this, he is the only who one who can finish it!
- Perfecter Perfect does not mean flawless, it means functional. A perfected faith is one that gets more grounded, more focused and more transferable as time goes on. Jesus is the champion, the initiator and the perfecter of our faith!
3-4 Don’t be weary or tempted to give up, after all you have not been killed standing for truth I love this. The author knows his audience if facing hard times but none of them have become martyrs…yet. Cowboy up because if hard times make you lose your faith, you have lost everything.
A great question to close any series is, “What now?” What do we take forward that is going to keep impacting our lives? As is common with the Bible, I don’t have to make anything up. The author of Hebrews tells us most directly and by expanding our view to Chapter Thirteen, I close with Ten What Now’s!
Ten “What Now’s”
- Square Up V. 12: 12 So get a grip, widen your stance and get your balance If you are spiritually off balance or double minded right now, get back into alignment with the mission. Refocus your mind, spirit and emotions and get back to Jesus!
- Live Intentionally V. 13 Plan your course Intentional living is rejecting the things in our lives that take us off mission and embracing things that put us on mission. What is your game plan to get closer to Jesus? A failure to plan is a plan to fail.
- Live Peaceably V. 14a Live in peace the best you can In these days when people are so quick to vilify anyone who disagrees with them, we must remember that Jesus told us to turn the other cheek. Always remember, anybody can decide they are your enemy but it takes two enemies to have a war. I am going to do my best to make sure that those who decide to become my enemy come up one enemy short of starting a war.
- Live Differently V. 14b Live holy “How are we different than those who don’t know Christ?” My answer is most simple, “I live by my understanding of the clear and consistent teachings of the Bible.” That is why I worship, pray, tithe, engage in group study and witness. That is why I hold the positions I hold and why I love people regardless of their past, lifestyle or position. That is why I endeavor to speak truth in love. To be holy is to be set apart.
- Live in Community V. 15a Watch out for each other Some in the Hebrew audience has ceased going to church and with their withdrawal they removed themselves the blessings of both spiritual leadership and the accountability of walking with brothers and sisters in Christ. The Christian walk in a fallen world is just too hard to go at it alone. I assure you that they church doesn’t need you or me nearly as much as we need the church.
- Don’t Get Twisted V. 15b And whatever you do, don’t grow bitter Bitterness is a sin. It begins when harbored animosity toward someone or something takes root in our spirits. Bitterness is a parasitic disease toward an exterior element that destroys the interior of its host. If you feel yourself growing bitter or if bitterness has set in, repent for you are in a much worse place than you know.
- Keep Worshiping 13: V. 15 Continually offer a sacrifice of praise Through repentance we pour out the bad; through worship God pours in the good. In difficult times, singing just won’t do; we must become worshipers.
- Be Generous 13: V. 16 Don’t forget to do good and be generous Correct belief does not excuse us from warm hearts.
- Be Blessings to the Church 13: V. 17 Give your leaders reason to lead joyfully. This is in your best interest. Yesterday I received a text from a colleague in another faith tradition. He asked how I was doing. I told him leading a congregation through a denominational crisis is not for the faint of heart! He replied, “That is exactly why I wrote. You have helped me so many times and I want to be there for you.” It was appreciated.
- Pray for God’s leaders and God’s work 13: V. 18 I am sure this is not the most difficult time to be a Christian leader in American history but it is the most difficult time in my lifetime. Leaders need your fervent prayers for protection, peace and power.
Jesus is Greater!
- Greater than your fears.
- Greater than your hopes.
- Greater than your doubts.
- Greater than your certainties.
- Greater than your addictions.
- Greater than your disciplines.
- Greater than your disappointments
- Greater than your successes.
- Greater than your pain.
- Greater than your happiness.
- Greater than your life.
- Greater than your death.
Greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world! -I John 4:4
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop is the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois