Let Us Run the Race
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, October 17, 2004
Copyright © 2004, P. G. Mathew
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. 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. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
We have all heard of the Boston Marathon. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews compares the Christian life to a marathon that begins at the moment of our conversion and ends at our death. These Hebrew Christians were tempted to drop out of their race because of the severe testings, trials, and persecutions they were experiencing. So the author wrote this long sermon to encourage them to persevere to the end by following the examples of past heroes of the faith. They were encouraged especially to follow the example par excellence of the faithful witness, Jesus Christ. This passage gives us several principles to keep in mind if we want to endure, persevere, and finish the race of the Christian life.
Be Encouraged by Past Heroes of the Faith
Hebrews 11 lists several Old Testament believers who ran the race of faith and finished it. By the time this epistle was written, these believers were in the presence of God, as Hebrews 12:22-23 tells us: "But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all men, to the spirits of just men made perfect."
As believers we are surrounded by a multitude of witnesses, such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and others. Their example should encourage us daily to run and finish the race so that we can join them. They had to suffer great trials and persecutions in this world, yet they persevered. They did not collapse or give up; rather, they lived by faith and witnessed to God in the world by their lives and deaths.
Who is a witness? A witness is one who of his own choice confesses Christ and chooses to live and die for the sake of Christ rather than to save his present life by renouncing Christ. He is one who chooses Christ, follows Christ, and dies for Christ. He is one who, by faith in the word of God, sees the reality of the world to come and lives by faith, not by sight. He is one who looks upon the visible world as temporary, and by faith sees the invisible world as eternal. A true witness does not follow Christ for temporal benefits such as health, wealth, fame, and power; rather, he looks for a city that is permanent-a city whose builder and maker is God.
Consider the examples of some of the heroes of faith: "Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection" (Hebrews 11:35). You see, they were faithful witnesses; they did not buckle, collapse, or quit. "Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated-the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground" (vv. 36-38).
Brothers and sisters, we are surrounded by a vast multitude, a "great cloud" of faithful witnesses. They are encouraging us by their testimonies: "Take heart; you are not the first ones to run this extremely difficult marathon. We have already run the race and finished it. We believed in the one true God and in his word, and we assure you that God is true and faithful to his covenant. Let God be true, and all men and Satan and demons be liars. Believe God as we did, and you shall finish the race. God himself will ensure that you win the race. He was with you in the past, he is with you now, and he will be with you until the end. He will be with you in the fire and the flood, in poverty, sickness, and loneliness. When people lie about you and reject you, he will be with you. When they stone you and saw you in two, he will be with you. He will be with you when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and he shall bring you safely home to his eternal kingdom.
"Hold on," these witnesses are telling us. "Stretch every nerve and muscle. Be disciplined, so you can run to the finish. Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might." Their words of encouragement ring throughout the Old Testament scriptures: "God is good. God is true. God is faithful. God will save us. God will deliver us."
Throw off Every Weight
Then we are exhorted, "Let us throw off everything that hinders." In a marathon, the lighter you are, the better. It makes no sense to enter a race with weights hanging around your neck. Take them off, once for all! That is the language; it is an aorist participle. Throw them out! They impede your race.
Jesus warned, "Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap" (Luke 21:34). Be careful! Elsewhere he tells us not to worry about our life, what we will eat or drink, or about our body, what we will wear, for God, who provides for the birds, will feed and clothe us. Our heavenly Father knows our need, and he will provide as we run the race.
Get rid of the weights of worry and anxiety! They only impede our Christian race. Stop worrying. Stop fearing. Stop doubting. Remember Lot's wife! She did not run the race. Weighed down with the worries of this world and her love for Sodom, she looked back and became a pillar of salt. Demas also failed to run the race. He had a lot of weight on him-his love of money and the pleasures of this world. Having loved this present world, he abandoned the gospel.
Always ask yourself the question: "Does this course of action, does this thing, does this decision, help my race of faith or hinder it?"
Throw off Every Besetting Sin
Again we are exhorted, "Let us throw off . . . the sin that so easily entangles." In order to run the race we must throw off every sin, rejecting, forsaking, detesting sin. There is no negotiation possible with sin if we are going to win this race of faith.
The Hebrews were weighed down with various sins, among them unbelief, backsliding, laziness, and sexual immorality. Hebrews 12:16 says, "See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son." And Hebrews 3:12 says, "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God." Unbelief is the most insidious, sophisticated sin in the world. Look at the intellectuals, the prominent people, the powerful people. When you present the case of the gospel of Jesus Christ to them, they laugh. They refuse to put their trust in Jesus Christ, the only Lord and Savior. Verse 13 continues, "But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness." Sin deceives us. It tells us black is white and white is black. It tells us, "Sin the more, and you shall go to heaven." Sin keeps us from running the race and receiving the crown. Hebrews 11:25 says of Moses, "He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time." Young people, old people, whoever you are-sin deceives, and its pleasure is for a short time. But then you are filled with guilt, and a heavy weight hangs on your neck, and you fail to run.
In Hebrews 12:4 we are told, "In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood." That means that we must rather die than sin. Look at the history of the church and you will see people dying. In Prague, Czechoslovakia, there is a statue of Jan Hus, who was burned alive by the Roman Catholic Church because he refused to recant his faith.
What about you? Do you yield to sin when you are tempted and tested? How easily we indulge in sin without any kind of rational debate in our minds! May God grant us the ability to resist sin and say, "I would rather die than sin against my Savior, who died for me on the cross." May we die confessing Christ, as the heroes of faith of the Old Testament did, and as the heroes of the New Testament did, and as a multitude of people in the history of the church have done.
Proverbs 28:13 is God's counsel to us in reference to sin: "He who conceals his sins does not prosper." One who is weighed down by sin will not win the race. He will go round and round, never getting anywhere; then he will collapse. "But whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy." Do you want to run this Christian marathon? Then you must confess and forsake your sin one hundred percent, without engaging in any kind of negotiation with God. And we are told in 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness," thus making us able to run the race. So all sins, especially secret, darling sins, hinder our running. They are snares and traps, like shackles on our ankles. We must strip them off, as athletes strip off their clothing before running.
Colossians 3:8 also tells us what we must do with sin: "But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator." Get rid of these things! Strip them off! Throw them out! Cast them aside, so you can be weightless and guiltless.
In Colossians 3:5 we are commanded, "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry." Look at the language: Kill! Put to death! Jesus said, "If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out . . . if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off" (Matthew 5:29-30). In other words, make the radical decision to get rid of those things that lead you into sin.
I do not have to tell you what sin you should throw off. You know what it is. The sin I commit may not be the one you commit. But each of us is to take that sin and do what Paul did with the viper in Malta. As he was collecting some twigs for a fire, a viper latched onto his hand. Paul didn't put the viper in his pocket! He threw it into the fire to be destroyed so that it wouldn't destroy anyone else. You see, your sin destroys not only you, but others as well. So don't negotiate with sin; throw it into the fire! Throw off the weight of all sin and run the race with endurance, looking to Jesus.
This is not something many churches preach anymore, because people do not like it. Instead they say, "Don't ask, don't tell. Just do whatever makes you happy. Don't worry about sin." But that is not what the Bible says about sin. The Bible says: Kill it! Get rid of it! Throw it off!
Romans 8:13 speaks about this progressive sanctification: "For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live." As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit within. He gives us the counsel and the power, the dunamis, to put sin to death. Before we even enter into this race, Jesus himself says to us, "Deny yourself, take up the cross daily and follow me."
In Luke 8 we find the parable of the sower and the soils. Verse 14 says, "The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature." All these sins weigh them down and choke them. And all of a sudden they collapse and backslide and go away, not persevering. It is a pathetic sight. Why don't they persevere? Why don't they run with us? Because they love sin more than the Savior, Jesus Christ.
How We Must Run
Run in Christ. How can anyone run the race, since we are all sinners loaded down with guilt? The answer is, we don't run the race until we come to Christ. Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). He takes the burden of all our guilt and makes us free. "If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed." Now we are called to follow him, and that should not be so difficult.
Run continuously. "Run the race" is in the present tense. That means we must continuously run the race, from the moment of our conversion until the day we die.
Run with others. We are told, "Let us run the race." It is not an individual thing; all of us are in this together. What great joy to see everyone running together in the same direction to the city of God. And we encourage one another, saying, "Come on! Come on! Let's together run the race of holiness."
Anticipate opposition. The word for "race" is "agony" or "contest," which means it is something that anticipates opposition and trouble. There are many places where this word agí´na is used; for example, Philippians 1:30: "Since you are going through the same struggle . . . ." All of us experience struggle, agony. This race demands that we put forth effort, strain every nerve and muscle. We struggle because there are enemies that oppose us, and there is resistance to our running the race.
In Colossians 2:1 Paul says, "I want you to know how much I am struggling . . . ." As an apostle, he is struggling. A lot of foolish ministers will say, "Receive Jesus and all your problems will be gone. There will be no more trouble; it will all vaporize." But I tell you, once you receive Jesus Christ, then you will find real problems. And if anyone preaches differently, he is a false preacher and a liar. Why else did Jesus say, "Deny yourself and take up the cross"? The cross means suffering.
And in 1 Thessalonians 2:2 Paul says: "We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition." He and his companions suffered imprisonments, beatings, stripping, mocking.
This race is agony. It requires great effort, great discipline, great fortitude, great determination, and a long-term point of view. It is not a sprint.
Run the race that is set before us. If you are a Christian, you do not choose your own race. Many people want to choose their own course because it is comfortable. No, we do not have that freedom. The race is marked out for us by Jesus Christ. He is the way. He is the starter and the finisher of our faith.
What is our race course? It is the will of God as revealed in the word of God. If we reject the word of God, we have no understanding of the course on which we are to run until the day we die.
Jesus discovered his race and ran it faithfully. He said, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work" (John 4:34). In John 5:30 he said, "By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me." And in John 6:38 he said, "For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me." Jesus' entire life was spent doing the will of God to please him. Thus, in John 17:4 Jesus prayed, "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do." And from the cross he cried out, "It is finished."
Jesus ran the race marked out for him by his Father. So also should we find our own course by looking to him in the Bible.
Run with Endurance
Running with perseverance is what the Hebrew church failed to do; that is why this epistle was written. But Christ has removed the weight of our guilt, and now we can run the race. Yet we will encounter trouble on the way, for there is evil in this world. Satan, the god of this world, hates us and works through human beings to wage war against the church of Jesus Christ.
There are evil false Christians who are agents of Satan to work against the true people of God. In Matthew 24:9 Jesus tells us: "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me." How do you like that? And in John 16:2 Jesus foretells what even church people will do to those who preach the gospel: "They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God." In other words, these are religious people, ones who supposedly worship and praise God. That is why Jesus said, "Deny yourself and take up the cross." We must be ready to die for the gospel. If such people crucified Jesus, they will crucify his disciples-if not with nails, then with words. We must expect persecution in this world.
Make sure you run with endurance. Don't be discouraged, flabby, or depressed. If you are miserable, you have not understood the gospel or the cost of discipleship. We are told in Ephesians 6:10-12, "Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. . . . For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." We must recognize that the devil and his world are against us and, therefore, we should not be surprised by troubles on the way. In fact, we should expect them, one after another. The moment we think we can relax, another big trouble will come upon us. John tells us, "Of his fullness we receive grace upon grace." In the same way, Christians get trouble upon trouble. But praise God, we also receive grace upon grace when we look unto Jesus.
The word "endurance," or "perseverance," appears several times in chapter 12. In verse 1 we read, "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." Endurance means standing under pressure.
Verse 2 says, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross." It is the same word. Jesus Christ endured the cross just as he ran the race with endurance.
Verse 3 tells us, "Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men." This key word comes again and again, because God understands that we become discouraged and weary and we may not endure it. So God says, "Endure it! Anticipate troubles." And in verse 7 we are told, "Endure hardship as discipline." In other words, hardship is profitable to us. It is the discipline of God that brings about character and holiness in us.
Let Us Fix Our Eyes on Jesus
We are told to run with our eyes fixed on Jesus. In the Greek it is a participle; we are to run "fixing our eyes on Jesus." We must not look to anyone or anything else-not to our pastor, not to our spouse or our children, not our neighbors, not to our investment portfolio, not to this temporal world with its fame and its glory. Jesus was shown all the splendors of this world, but he looked away from all of that and said no to the devil. As you live your life, the same temptation may come to you also. The world may offer you some fame, some glory, some power, some glitter. Many people will settle for these things; then they will come to church and say, "It is so wonderful; God has blessed me." No, it was a test, and you failed it.
We must look away from all that is distracting. Look away from the things of this world-its glory, its power, its beauty, its cup of soup, its praises, its Vanity Fair. As Jesus said, "What shall it profit if you gain the whole world and lose your soul?"
We must look away, also, from our own negative feelings. Don't look into yourself. Many people are trapped by their own emotions and ideas. They subject the word of God and its commands to their feelings. We must look away from all that silliness.
Look away from yourself and from everybody else, and look to Jesus Christ alone. That is the idea. Focus on Jesus only, God's eternal Son who became man. Think of his incarnation, his complete dedication to do the will of God. Think of his temptation and how he overcame it. People wanted to make him king, but he said, "No!" The devil wanted to give him all the glories and kingdoms of this world, but he said, "No!" Think of how he endured mocking, spitting, and beating; and how he prayed at Gethsemane to the point of sweating blood. Yet after all this he prayed, "Not my will but thine be done."
Have you experienced rejection? Don't worry; Jesus did also. He was called a Samaritan, a drunkard, and Beelzebub. He came to his own and his own received him not. Judas betrayed him; the other apostles forsook him. Yet he ran the race and finished it, for he came to give his life as a ransom for many. He freely laid down his life for us and was obedient to death, even the death of the cross. He died for our sins and for our salvation. (PGM) He is the sinless One who bore our sins, the author and finisher of our faith. He is our forerunner, our trailblazer. He went ahead of us, and now we simply follow him. He has made our race very easy.
Hebrews 12:2 tells us Jesus scorned the shame of his humiliation upon the cross. When they heaped up humiliation upon him, especially in the death of the cross, he did not value it-he despised it. That is what we must learn to do also. When people despise you, throw it out! Don't dwell on it, for that is what the devil wants. Don't take every despising and every mocking seriously. It is good to have some spiritual "Teflon coating" so that such things won't stick to you.
Jesus finished the race. He despised the shame of his humiliation because of the joy that was set before him-the joy of becoming our Savior, the joy of being seated on the right hand of the throne of God. He valued the joy and despised the shame.
Jesus is the faithful witness, the witness that we should always look to. He is the object of our faith. Don't take your eyes off of him. Think about his person. Think about his saving work. Think about his endurance. Think about his complete trust in his Father. Think about his unflinching faith when he was crucified. They said, "He trusts in his God. Let's find out if his God will come and help him!"
Think about this Christ, who was raised from the dead and ascended into the heavens. Think about him seated on his throne. He is our King. He is the Sovereign of the world, One who is greater than angels, greater than Moses, greater than Aaron. He is the great high priest, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Think about him and meditate upon him. He is in heaven, but he is also with us. Fix your eyes on him. Run after him and receive strength from him for your Christian race. Know that we can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengtheneth us. Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. With his power we can resist Satan and he shall flee from us.
Consider Jesus only. See him in the Scriptures, for the whole of the Scriptures speak of him. Meditate upon the word until Jesus fills your heart and you are gripped by Jesus-his person, his work, his might, and his power. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Let Christ be in you, the hope of glory. Know Christ and the power of his resurrection as you run the race. Let there be no double-mindedness. See Christ only and you shall run and finish the race. Christ guarantees it.
Paul proved this to be true. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 he writes, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day," making us able to run this spiritual marathon. "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."
In 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul says, "And we who with unveiled faces all contemplate"-that is one way to translate it. You could also say "see" or "reflect"; it all means the same thing-that we are thinking of the Lord's glory, that we are seeing the Lord. And as we think about the Lord, what happens? Metamorphosis takes place. "We are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." That is what happens when we fix our eyes on Jesus.
Seeing Christ in the Word
We have been commanded, "Fix your eyes on Jesus; look to him." But where do we see Christ? In the word of God. Jesus said, "The entire Old Testament speaks of me." The fundamental hermeneutical principle is Christocentric interpretation of the Bible, because the entire Bible is speaking about Jesus. Look to Jesus in the inspired word of God. Meditate upon Jesus until your heart is filled with him, until you grasp the meaning of Romans 8:35. There the apostle asks, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?" The answer is given in verse 37: "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us."
It is vitally important for Christians to read the word of God, meditate upon the word of God, believe the word of God, and pray to God daily, for as God's people we face opposition every day. The enemy of our souls lurks, waiting to trap us, trip us, confuse us, cause us to become apostate, and make us deny our Lord Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 11:27 tells us that Moses said "No" to all the glory, power, dignity, and position of Egypt: "By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible." So we also must see Jesus by faith even in the midst of our problems and trouble and persecution and sickness and misery and hatred. Think of him and meditate upon him, because when we see him who is invisible we are strengthened and transformed by him and we keep on running the race with endurance until we arrive.
Meditating on Jesus
I would like to mention seven qualities of Jesus Christ which we should remember when we meditate upon his person and his work:
Jesus is compassionate. He is the sympathizing high priest. Because he experienced all suffering, he is able not only to sympathize with us, but to help us. Hebrews 2:18 says, "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." That is why we must look to him, meditate upon him, think on him, and pray to him.
Jesus is the victorious pioneer of the race. He began the race, he continued the race, and he finished the race. In Hebrews 6:20 we are told Jesus is the prodromos, the forerunner, the one who went before us. There was no trail; he blazed it for us. So look to him and follow him to the finish. He started all believers, both Old Testament and New, in this race of faith.
Jesus is the perfecter of the race. He is not only the pioneer, but he is also the perfecter of the race. When we look to him and trust in him, he will see to it that we complete the race, as he did. He doesn't start the race and go home, saying, "Now it is up to you. You started in the Spirit; now finish in the flesh." No. We don't have a deistic God. Our God is with us, and he will make sure we all arrive safely at the Celestial City.
Jesus is a devoted servant. Hebrews 10:7 speaks about Christ in his pre-incarnate days: "Then I said, 'Here I am-it is written about me in the scroll-I have come to do your will, O God.'" God incarnate came into this world. He came in lowliness, as a servant. And he not only promised to obey God, but he did so.
In Hebrews 5:7 we read, "During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears . . . ." He cried for others. The shortest verse in the Bible is "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). But here he is crying for himself. It is referring to Gethsemane, where blood came out of him as he faced the great stress of being made sin for us. He offered these cries "to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. . . ." (vv. 7-8) Imagine that! Jesus learned obedience by obeying. One cannot learn obedience by any other way. Verse 9 tells us, "Once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him." You see, belief itself is obedience. "What must I do to be saved?" The answer is, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved." Belief is the first obedience. To pretend that we can be saved without obedience is a doctrine of demons.
Jesus was an effective priest. In the Old Testament Aaronic priesthood, the priests never sat while they were working. There was no chair in the tabernacle or the temple, because their work was never completed. But this high priest came, did his work, and sat down: "After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven" (Hebrews 1:3). So 1 John 1:9 tells us, "If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." On what basis does God forgive our sins? Because the work is done. Jesus made purification for sins and sat down.
Jesus is a patient sufferer. When you are suffering, meditate upon this aspect of our Lord. You say you are mocked? He was mocked. Very God, very man, he who did not sin, was mocked, assaulted, scourged, forsaken, handed over by his own apostle, imprisoned, falsely accused, and crucified-a most shameful death. He became curse for us. Yet he suffered it all patiently. So when you think things are getting really bad, meditate on Jesus. All of a sudden, your misery will dissipate.
Jesus is the enthroned Lord. This fact is declared several times, in Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2. "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" (12:2). He is the Sovereign King and head of the church. Everything is made subject to him; all things are placed under his feet. He rules and reigns even now from the heavenlies. That is why we must look to him, consider him, and meditate on him.
The Joy Set before Us
Why did Jesus endure such suffering? For the joy set before him. There is also joy set before us to motivate us to run the race and to finish it. What is our joy? The joy of the glory of God. The joy of hearing, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." The joy of seeing Jesus in his glory, as Stephen did. The joy of having eternal fellowship with God in a new heaven and a new earth, and experiencing no more pain, no more tears, no more rejection, no more mocking, no more separation, no more loneliness, no more death. The joy of meeting all the people of God of all times. The joy of meeting parents and children and loved ones who have gone before us. Think of all the joy!
The night of his arrest, Jesus spoke of this joy to his apostles: "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete" (John 15:11). "I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy . . . Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete" (John 16:20-22, 24).
There is joy set before us-joy now and joy to come. That is what enabled the apostle Paul to say, "We rejoice in tribulations also," and the apostle Peter to declare, "We rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory," even in the midst of trouble and persecution.
Times of Refreshing
Hebrews 12:3 says, "Consider him. . . ." Why should we consider Jesus? Why should we meditate on him? Why should we carefully read the word of God? Why should we look to Jesus alone? There is a purpose clause at the end: "Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (italics added). The purpose of it is because God understands that we become weary and exhausted. So he tells us, "I know you are weary. But look to me and I will refresh you. I will strengthen you."
The same word "weary" is translated as "collapse" in Mark 8:3: "If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance." You see, God understands that we are weary, hungry, faint, and losing heart. So what does he do? He feeds us and strengthens us in a way that a wife, a husband, or a pastor cannot do. So look to him! Consider him! And as we consider him, as we meditate upon the word, and as we pray to him, we will be fed by heavenly manna and be strengthened, so that we do not collapse, quit, or backslide.
Consider the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 18. Elijah did mighty things: he prophesied, killed the prophets of Baal, and prayed until a great rain came. But in chapter 19 he received a little note from Queen Jezebel, probably under the signature of her husband, which said, "In twenty-four hours I will kill you." Suddenly the mighty prophet became tired and afraid. He said, "I've had enough. I want to die." But the Lord sent an angel to him with a cake of baked bread and water. He told Elijah, "Get up and eat," and Elijah was strengthened. You see, Elijah considered God. He prayed to God, and God answered his prayer: "Yes, I see you are in trouble. I will take care of you."
Why, then, should we consider Jesus? That we may not grow weary and faint. He will refresh us. He will strengthen us. He will make us strong. He says, "My grace is sufficient for you," and we reply, "I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengtheneth me." As Isaiah 40:31 promises, "Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."
Read the Scriptures and be encouraged by the witness of the heroes of the faith.
Read the Scriptures and be strengthened by the faithful witness of Jesus.
Throw away the weight of worry about anything.
Throw away all darling secret sins. You know what they are-sexual sins, evil relationships, worldly ambitions, deceitfulness of riches, pleasures of this life, seeking praises of men, laziness, unbelief, gluttony. Confess and forsake them one hundred percent.
Resist sin to the point of death.
Rejoice in troubles.
Despise shame; even glory in it. The apostles gloried when they were arrested and flogged. Count it a privilege to suffer shame for Jesus' sake.
Consider how your problems are less than the problems of others. Remember, certain people were sawn in two.
Consider how your problems are infinitely less than the problems Jesus faced.
Look to Jesus. He is with you. He is enthroned in heaven but he is also here.
Trust Jesus. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Joy is set before you. Not only when the race is over; you can experience it even here.
Depend on the Holy Spirit. In Hebrews 9:14 we are told that Jesus offered himself up by the Holy Spirit. Don't ever live your life in your own strength. Depend on the Holy Spirit.
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Copyright © 2004, P. G. Mathew
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The "NIV" and "New International Version" are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™