Here’s my final sermon preached at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church. They will soon close and reopen as a non-denominational church with a new name. This wasn’t actually the sermon that I had intended to preach on the final Sunday. The church wasn’t open last Sunday because of the high winds, so this was the sermon I had planned to preach last week. Maybe I’ll share the text of that sermon I planned for today at some point in the future. That sermon is a farewell blessing…I shared a highlight or two from it for the children’s message today. This one is about the true race for the cure–the cure for sin. The sermon audio is available at this link.
I’ve mentioned before that back when I was a teenager, I participated in RAGBRAI. That stands for the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. It was sponsored by Iowa’s foremost newspaper the Des Moines Register. It was not a competition to see who could bicycle across the state the fastest; people would join the ride for as much or as little time as they wanted. Some people would join the ride only for a day. Others who were straggling behind might get picked up by the sag wagon. The routes were at least 50 miles long each day. One day we had the choice of two routes—you could do the route that included an extra loop around a lake to make it a hundred miles that day or you could skip the loop for a shorter ride. In any case, I was determined to be able to say that I rode my bicycle for each and every mile including that loop. It was a competition with myself. Thus when I came to a hill I would often stop for a breath, but eventually I would get back onto the bike and ride it up the hill even if I was moving at a pace slower than walking. Just to clear up some stereotypes, Iowa is not flat. And it seemed whenever the ride could have gone a couple different ways it took the more difficult one. So most days we were riding up hills much of the time. Over the six days I bicycled at least 492 miles from the western side of the state until the eastern border. The experience made me tired, sore, and gave me a harsh sunburn that took a few years to fade, but I persevered to the end. My experience doing that ride is similar to the “foot-race” mentioned in this morning’s passage. After speaking in chapter 11 about the faith of people like Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac, the author of Hebrews compares the life of faith with a foot-race in chapter 12. This run is not a competition against other people, the objective is rather to cross the finish line and in this text he gives us encouragement to endure—to persevere—to the end. After all, how many of us have not at one time or another felt weary or fainthearted in the run of faith because the battle with sin in our lives was taking its toll. Indeed, it is a “Race for the Cure” for sin. I’m sure you’re familiar with The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, which is a fundraiser for breast cancer research. I won’t endorse giving to that organization because they give grants to the abortion giant Planned Parenthood. Nevertheless, their race for the cure is a perfect analogy for the race for the cure that the author of Hebrews describes. Listen for the ways that the author of Hebrews encourages us to endure to the finish line:
- The author of Hebrews encourages us to endure to the finish line by describing us as running this race for the cure surrounded by a cloud of witnesses.
- The heroes of faith in Hebrews 11—people like Noah, Moses, and Abraham—are cheering us on to the finish line by their examples of enduring faith. When the author of Hebrews says that we are “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) he is describing these heroes of faith as if they were cheering us on to the finish line from the heavenly stands of this stadium. And the way that these heroes of faith cheer us on is by their examples of enduring faith recorded in the Scriptures. Abel cheers us on by his example of offering to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain. Of course, this led Cain to kill Abel. But we’re encouraged because God hears Abel’s blood speak from the ground (cf. Heb 11:4, Gen 4:10). Enoch cheers us on by his example of walking with God by faith. Indeed, we’re also encouraged because Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death (Heb 11:5, Gen 5:24). Noah cheers us on by his example of building an ark on dry land for the saving of his household and this encourages us because he became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith (Heb 11:7). Abraham cheers us on by his examples of going out without knowing where he was going, living in tents in the land of promise as in a foreign land, and offering up Isaac. These things encourage us because they were seeking a better country, that is, a heavenly one, and Abraham received his son back from the dead (figuratively speaking). Moses cheers us on by his example of choosing to be mistreated with the people of God instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin (cf. Heb 11:25). And so forth.
- Thus the author of Hebrews tells us that since we are surrounded by such examples of enduring faith, we are also to lay aside those things that get in the way of our running with endurance. He says, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1). The image appears to be that of the runner changing out of an outfit not suited for running. When I bicycled across Iowa, I did not wear dress pants, suit jacket, shirt and tie. I certainly didn’t wear a robe. Instead, I wore tennis shoes, shorts and a t-shirt, clothing much more conducive to riding my bike. The same is true for the runner, but the author of Hebrews does not leave us in any doubt what he means by this illustration, he spells it out for us. We are to lay aside sin like a runner lays aside burdensome clothes: sin is what holds us back. (This is not just another reminder to remove sin from your life. If it were, that would be rather discouraging. The author of Hebrews does not desire to discourage you but rather to encourage you.)
- The author of Hebrews encourages us to endure to the finish line by reminding us to look to Christ—the champion and perfecter of our faith.
- This is not just another reminder to remove sin from your life but rather it is an encouragement to look to Jesus. The cloud of spectators for this foot-race for the cure are passive in comparison with Jesus Christ. They are simply cheering from the stands, as it were, and it isn’t an accident that they fade into the background of the passage as the Old Testament saints aren’t the examples from this point forward. Jesus Himself is the example for us throughout the rest of the passage. The author speaks of Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). Christ ran ahead first and secured the path for us to run upon through His death and resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God and He improves our running as we mature. This is what it means to say that He is the champion and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2). The ESV says “founder and perfecter.” They’re getting at the same idea. He is the only one who has already crossed the finish line. He finished the path to salvation—resurrected ahead of time. He is also the one who makes our following Him possible and as the Great Physician provides for the healing of those parts that are lame (Heb 12:13). You might think of this race for the cure as a cross country run over rugged terrain and in bad weather. The one who ran ahead and finished the race for the cure can show us the way there.
- We will never make it over the finish line without Christ. If we try to run without Him, we will run in place, backwards, sideways, and even in circles, but not forwards. And if we were living in Old Testament times, we could run forward by faith and not make it over the finish line. But with Christ as our champion today, we will persevere to the end. If He could endure from sinners such hostility against Himself as the cross (combining Heb 12:2-3), then we can endure in our struggle against sin (Heb 12:4). If He could endure such reproach because He saw the reward, then we can persevere in a world where the powerful oppress and mistreat us. If He could endure such suffering because of the joy that was set before Him, then we can continue to run with our bad knees and injuries healed. We cannot do any of these things on our own. But looking to the risen Christ who is seated at the right hand of the Father, we can lift up our drooping hands and strengthen our week knees and make straight paths for our feet (cf. Heb 12:12-13a). The passage says for us to do these things “so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” (Heb 12:13b). We need that healing because of our sin. (But again, these verses aren’t another sermon telling you to remove sin from your life. That would be rather discouraging. The message of Hebrews is much more encouraging than that. Not only does the author of Hebrews tell us to consider Jesus who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself as the cross so that we may not grow weary or fainthearted (Heb 12:3). The passage goes a step further.)
- The author of Hebrews encourages us to endure to the finish line because God is treating us as His sons.
- It would be understandable if an athlete became weary because their athletic trainer was incredibly harsh, but we need to remember that God is our Father and not our athletic trainer. Earthly fathers are far from perfect. Some parents can be quite obnoxious when they are cheering on their children at sporting events. Some even serve as athletic trainers for their children and can be quite harsh. Even so, the relationship of an athletic trainer to a runner is not the same as a father to his son. During their childhood, children will endure discipline that seemed right to their parents. In many cases it will not be in their best interests. Nevertheless, as the author of Hebrews says, they will respect a father who disciplines them (Heb 12:9). But God is the perfect father. He disciplines us with our best interests in mind. If we remember that we are sons of God while running in this race for the cure, then we will not become weary. (As always, my apologies to the ladies for calling you “sons.” You are sons and not daughters because in the ANE it normally was the sons who inherit. We never made it that far in Numbers, but you can read near the end of that book about some daughters who did inherit. It is an amazing story of faith. But that was the exception—not the rule. If it is any consolation, we’re the bride of Christ. But I digress.)
- The point the author of Hebrews is making here is that the very presence of a struggle against sin in your life is proof that you’re a beloved son of God who will cross the finish line. It is understandable that you might be discouraged by the ongoing presence of sin in your life. The hardships you face may be painful. The discipline you endure may hurt. But we are to be encouraged because God disciplines the one He loves and chastises every son whom He receives (Heb 12:6). Furthermore, we are to be encouraged because the result of this discipline that is for our own good is that we will finish the race for the cure. That is, we will live (cf. Heb 12:9), that we may share in His holiness (Heb 12:10), that it will later yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Heb 12:11). My goal in the ride across Iowa was to be able to say that I biked every inch of every mile. How much greater a goal is it that we strive to in the race for the cure? Sure the training might become quite difficult at times or even for extended periods, but it is nothing compared to the length of our days after this life. Nor will the pain here compare to the joy then. Thanks be to God. Amen!