The Lord's Day Morning
August 22, 2010
“Encouragement for the Weary: It's All About Jesus”
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Our help is in the name of the Lord who made the heavens and the earth. Let us worship God!
Lord our God, we come into Your presence grasping again the name, the precious name of the Lord Jesus our Savior, our Prophet, our Priest, our King, our sin-bearer. We thank You, O Lord, that the way has been opened up, a fountain opened up for sin and uncleanness, that whosoever believes on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved. We thank You, O Lord, that You've rescued us from sin and perdition and brought us into union and communion with the Lord Jesus, that now are we the sons of God and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him even as He is. We ask for Your blessing. Come Holy Spirit. Enable us now to worship You in spirit and in truth. We ask it all for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Now turn with me to Hebrews chapter 12. Hebrews chapter 12. We’re going to read the first three verses. Before we read these verses together let's look to God in prayer.
Our Father, we are thankful for the Scriptures that are able to make us wise unto salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ our Lord. We thank You for the encouragements and promises and exhortations of Scripture, one of which we are about to examine this morning. We are, as ever, a needy people. You know our hearts and dispositions this morning. Come, by Your Spirit. Open up Your Word to us. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hebrews chapter 12 and verses 1 to 3:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, 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, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, 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.
Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
Amen. May God bless to us that reading of His holy and inerrant Word.
This is, if you turn to chapter 13 and verse 22, you’ll see that the author gives us a sign, an indication as to what this letter is all about. “I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation.” You could render that “encouragement.” Bear with my word of “encouragement” or word of “exhortation” for I have written to you briefly. Now throughout Hebrews there are a number of exhortations. Chapter 2 verse 1, chapter 4 verse 1, chapter 6 verse 1, chapter 10 verse 23 are just some of the exhortations that you’ll find in the epistle to the Hebrews, but this is the one that we're going to look at this morning. “Run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
Now I said at the eight-thirty service this morning that I'm going to have to speak about a topic that I know almost nothing about and that is running. And I must admit, twenty, thirty people in the break between the first and second services this morning who regaled me with excruciating stories about how many miles you ran yesterday. One deacon in this church cycled, was it sixty-five miles, yesterday. I questioned his sanity. (laughter) I ran when I was young, but I'm going to try and enter into this metaphor this morning in a way that some of you might think is somewhat hypocritical of me.
Now there are three things in this passage this morning.
I. There is a great exhortation to persevere.
The first is this — there is a great exhortation here to persevere, or in the language of the ESV, to endure, to run with endurance, to run with perseverance. Now the idea, the metaphor here, is not running a hundred meter race but a marathon, the race that is for the long haul. And you run that race very differently from the way you would run a hundred meter dash, sprint.
Some of you know earlier this summer I encountered the surgeon's blade for a brief moment and it rendered me in bed for a day and I endured, for what was the first time in many years, daytime TV, which reminded me of one of the circles of Dante's inferno — to be locked into daytime TV! (laughter) But my mother called, as mothers do, to inquire after me, and she said to me, “Are you watching the Tour de France?” the cycle race, you know, through France. Now knowing where the sports channels were on my TV I eventually found it and got absolutely fascinated, more by the scenery than the race itself. But as I watched this race - and this race as you know takes place over many, many days — they cycle, I don't know, lots and lots of miles every day for many hours in the noonday summer heat, what fascinated me was their endurance. When portions of this race were climbing to elevations of five, six, seven thousand feet, with their seats out of the saddle for most of that time having to cycle uphill, it was the endurance. I must say I asked on occasions why they did this, but the sheer, the sheer perseverance to get to the end. Now that's the metaphor, that's the picture the writer of Hebrews is implying here. We are to run with endurance.
Now is he saying, and some of you know all too well those two little words at the end of verse 3 — “to grow weary or fainthearted.” And that may well describe some of you this morning. You’re weary and are in danger of becoming and yielding to faintheartedness. Is he saying, “Here's what you need to do, you just need to try harder. You just need to work harder. You just need to do more. Don't stop, just do more. That's what you need”? No, that's not what he's saying. That would be to turn the Gospel on its head. Look at the language that he employs. He says, “Run with endurance the race that is set before us.” This race has been mapped out for us. It's been planned for us. You know that verse, two verses in Ephesians 2 — 8 and 9 — that we're “saved by grace through faith, that not of ourselves it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast”? And then you remember he goes on to say that although we are saved by grace apart from the works of the law, we are saved unto good works “which God has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” In other words, it's all of grace from beginning to end. This race that we are endure, this race that we are to run, is a race which God has set out before us, has planned for us from before the foundation of the world.
He wants us, in other words — look at the text. It's all over the text. He wants us to draw the motivation and the power and stamina for endurance from Jesus, from Jesus, looking unto Jesus — because you are in union with Jesus, because you are a forgiven sinner, because all the guilt is gone, because you are loved, because you are special, because you are adopted children run with endurance. It's not, “do more” in the sense of find some inner strength that lies within you. You know, dig deep down within you to find some hidden resource that you didn't know that you had. He's not saying you’re saved by grace and then it's all up to you. You know there's a kind of preaching that sounds very much like that. You’re saved, the entry door is grace and faith, and then it's all up to you. The rest is all up to you. And this is the “all up to you” part — run with endurance. No, it's Gospel from beginning to end. It's “run” because you’re in union with Jesus. It's “run” because your sins are forgiven. “Run” because all of the obstacles have been mapped out before you. There isn't an obstacle that Jesus hasn't planned and over which He has set promises and given covenants and shed His blood. Looking unto Jesus, looking unto Jesus — it's all about Jesus. It's all about Jesus. He knows this race. This is a great exhortation to persevere.
You remember how Spurgeon was converted? You remember it was that snowy night, he was on his way somewhere else, and he turns into this little chapel. There's only half a dozen people there. He's sitting up in the balcony. There's a preacher his name he doesn't know. He said he was a very poor preacher but he had one redeeming merit and that was he kept repeating the text. And the text was, “Look unto Me all the ends of the earth and be ye saved.” And he kept on repeating it and he looked up into the balcony and he saw Spurgeon and he says, “You look miserable!” Sorry I'm pointing at you now! (laughter) “Look unto Jesus.” And that was it. That was it. That was what the Holy Spirit used to convert Charles Haddon Spurgeon. But you know, it's like that every single day. Look unto Jesus.
You run this race and it is a race and it involves endurance, and it involves perseverance, and there is something called “the pain barrier.” Okay, I know nothing about it, but people tell me about the pain barrier that you have to go through when you run a marathon. Does it occur at sixteen miles or at eighteen miles or twenty miles? And once you’re through that pain barrier you can see the end — persevere, run with perseverance, but look to Jesus. Look to Jesus every step of the way. That's the first thing. There's a great exhortation to perseverance.
II. A warning about hindrances.
The second thing here is there's a warning here about hindrances. And he talks about two of them — “lay aside every weight” and “sin which clings so closely.” Now commentators are divided. Is he talking about two separate things or is he talking about one thing in two different ways? I'm tempted to think that he's talking about the former — in other words, two different things. The first thing is the weight. Lay aside every weight. He's talking about things that are not sinful in themselves. He's talking about legitimate things. You know, if you’re running a race you don't wear your clumpy walking shoes that you take on a hike through the hills. You don't wear your Sunday shoes — do you have Sunday shoes? I'm old fashioned. I have Sunday shoes — shoes that I only wear on Sundays. You know, black polished shoes that I don't wear except on Sundays. But you don't wear those if you’re going to go running. It's not wrong to wear these on a Monday.
Sometimes people ask this question — What's wrong with it? What's wrong with this? That's invariably the wrong question to ask. That's not how the Bible would approach that situation. The Bible would approach that situation and say, “Does this decision that I've made about the Christian life, about my approach to the Christian life, about what I do in relation to the Christian life, it's not sinful”
But the Bible says, “Does that help you and enable you to be a better Christian?” That's the question. It's not — Am I entitled to do such-and-such? You know people ask about the Lord's Day, people ask all those questions — Can I do this? Can I do that? I never answer those questions. I never ever answer those questions because the spirit in which they’re asked is invariably wrong. It's, “What's the least I can get away with and still regard myself as a Christian?” That's not how the Bible approaches it. The Bible approaches it by saying, “Will this help me be a better Christian?”
You know Paul says in one place, actually it's in 1 Corinthians 7 - you can look at it later — he says, “I say to you who are married, live as though you were unmarried.” I didn't make that up. Paul actually says that. “I say to you who are married, live as though you are unmarried.” What's he saying? Well, he's addressing the person who takes the hand of another and says, “You’re mine first and Jesus’ second.” And Paul is saying that “marriage is fine, marriage is a blessing; marriage is a blessing that God gave in Eden. That's why Satan wants to destroy it. But I want you to live as though you were unmarried. In other words, I want you to live and say, ‘You’re Jesus’ first and you’re mine second.’”
Cast aside the weight and the sin, and the ESV puts it this way — “sin which clings so closely.” And this is what he's getting at. It's so close you can't see it. You’ll think ill of me now, but have you ever been in a situation and you say to yourself, “Don't they see, don't they see how rude they are?” I mean you don't say that publically, you’re southerners. You don't say that publically. You may think it in your brain. Am I the only one that thinks that? You say to yourself, “Don't they see how rude they are?” And you know, they don't. Most of the time they don't because it sticks so closely to them it's become part of what they are.
Here's what you need to do. You need to listen to those who know you really well. And it may be a friend, it may be a partner, a spouse, and they say, “You know, this thing about you — don't get all defensive.” Say, “I know. I'm sorry. Help me to cast it away because I want to be more like Jesus.” That's the goal here. You know what? What's the big goal this morning? To conform us to the image of Jesus, that's the goal. So lay aside the weight, those things that you regard as your liberties. And I want to defend my liberties against anyone. Don't mess with my liberties. “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men.” I'm quoting the Westminster Confession. Don't mess with my liberties. But are those liberties helping you to be a better Christian? And those sins, those sins that you can barely see anymore, because they've become part and parcel of you, they’re hindrances to endurance.
John Owen, 17th century Puritan, perhaps one of the three greatest theologians who ever lived, who wrote in Latin and spoke in Latin and dreamt in Latin, once said, “Let not that man think that he makes any progress in true holiness who does not walk over the bellies of his lusts.” There's a warning here about hindrances.
III. A focus on our encouragements.
But thirdly, not only is there this great exhortation to perseverance, not only is there here a warning about hindrances, but in the third place, there's a focus on our greatest encouragements. Now there are two of them here in the passage. The first you see there — “a cloud” verse 1 — “We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” He's talking about Hebrews 11. He's talking about the gallery of the faithful — Abraham and Moses and David and Barak and Jephthah, and Rahab, and all the other names that are mentioned in Hebrews 11. I think he's saying, “They’re watching you.” You know, as the book of Revelation certainly hints at in Revelation 6, those who are on the other side know what's going on here and they’re watching, not in the sense of condemning, not in the sense of tutting and saying, “Oh, no, no, no.” In the sense of they’re willing you to go on; they’re encouraging you. This great cloud of witnesses in heaven are looking down and they’re willing, they’re wishing you to persevere and endure just as they were enabled to endure and persevere. And some of them did some pretty bad stuff.
But there's another encouragement. “Looking unto Jesus” — looking to Jesus. And he uses two words — the “founder and perfecter” of our faith. The founder — it's not a great translation. It's a word, it's a word that means the trailblazer, the one who goes before who clears the path. Think of a platoon in a jungle somewhere and you come to a ravine and you can't go back because you’re being pursued and you can't jump this ravine, but the platoon commander jumps across with a rope. That's the idea. He's the trailblazer. He opens up the way. He's the aphorao in Greek. He's the one who goes before. You know, you’re tempted to grow weary, you’re tempted to get fainthearted. Some of you are in the dark. You’re walking in darkness and can see no light and you get down on your hands and knees in the pitch darkness and you feel the sand on the floor and there's a footprint. It's the footprint of Jesus, the trailblazer. He's been here. He's been in this cave. He's been in this darkness. “We do not have a High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities but was in all points tempted like as we are.” Look to Him.
But He's also the finisher, or as the ESV has it, the “perfecter.” You know when I was growing up there was a trade called a finisher. I don't even know if they exist today, but it was one thing to get a job done, but it was another thing to get the finisher in and do all the little details and make it perfect. He's the perfecter. He makes it perfect. There are no mistakes here. There aren't any things that He's overlooked. He begins it; He finishes it, for you and me. It's grace all the way. It's Jesus all the way. Look unto Jesus. Look unto Jesus who begins it and ends it.
And what was the motivation for Jesus, because this is your motivation too? Look at the text. Look at the text. “For the joy that was set before Him.” For the joy of being back in His Father's arms and hearing those words, “Well done, My Son. I love you.” You’re tempted this morning to grow weary and fainthearted because it's difficult, because it's tough, because there are setbacks, things happen. This happened to friends of mine this week, out of the blue, unexpectedly. They didn't see it coming. It's going to change their entire lives from here on in. Their lives are going to be different now. All of their decisions and hopes and dreams and ambitions now have to take this particular thing into view. Tragic mistake? No, just part of the divine organization and plan of a sovereign God who works everything together for the good of those who love Him. Look to Jesus.
Perhaps this morning that's precisely your problem. You've taken your eyes off Jesus. I was talking to the prayer meeting on Wednesday night about Peter. You remember when Jesus fed the 5,000 He sent the disciples in a boat across the Sea of Galilee, He went up into a mountain to pray, and then a storm broke out in the Sea of Galilee in the middle of the night. And in the fourth watch of the night, Jesus comes walking on the water. Some of the disciples think it's a ghost and Peter says, only Peter could say this, “Let me come to You.” And he steps out of the boat and he begins to walk on the water and then he remembers the laws of physics that he did when he was in school, that heavier items just go down. And he began to sink because he took his eyes off Jesus.
What's the lesson? What's the lesson? It couldn't be simpler, couldn't be simpler. Don't take your eyes off of Jesus. Don't take your eyes off Him. “Jesus the very thought of Thee with sweetness fills my breast, but sweeter far Thy face to see and in Thy presence rest.”
We’re going to sing not what's in the bulletin but, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” It's number 481. “Turn your eyes upon Jesus; look full in His wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
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