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He Disciplines Us for Our Good

Series: Better: A Study of the Christian Life in Hebrews

Sermon by Ligon Duncan on Aug 25, 2013

Hebrews 12:1-3

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If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Hebrews chapter 12.В We’re going to be looking at the first three verses this morning and especially on the theme, “Fixing Our Eyes on Jesus.”В This whole passage is about living the Christian life, and I want to say just a couple of things about that by way of introduction.В This passage is not telling you how you come to be right with God.В The Bible explains to us that the way that we come to be right with God is through the person and work of Jesus Christ - Christ taking our sins upon Himself and our trusting and resting, receiving Him alone for our salvation as He is offered in the Gospel.В When we address the issue of the Christian life, how you live the Christian life in the New Testament, it is not about how we get God to love us and accept us by our performance.В God, in His love and kindness and grace has accepted us in Jesus Christ as we trust in Him, as we have faith in Him.В The issue of Christian sanctification in the New Testament is - having been graciously accepted by God, how shall we then live?В And this passage is about how you live the Christian life.

Secondly, I want you to note it really is an extension of what we have already been studying in Hebrews chapter 11.В You know if I could outline the book of Hebrews so far - we've been in it for a while, so you may have forgotten all the way back to Hebrews chapter 1 - let me just give you a three-point outline.В Jesus is better.В Don't stop believing.В Here are people who walked with God by faith and they crossed the finish line - be encouraged by their example.ВВ There's my outline of the book of Hebrews.В Jesus is better.В I mean the first ten chapters, didn't they, over and over emphasize that Jesus is the better Savior.В And then we're encouraged all along the way - don't stop believing.В Don't stop putting your faith, don't stop putting your trust in Christ.В That message comes over and over again, loud and clear.В And then finally in Hebrews 11, an example, in fact several examples are given to you from Old Testament saints and maybe even the intertestamental period and into the time of the New Testament, of people who believed, they trusted God, and they continued to believe right until the end of their lives.В And they are given to us as examples, as encouragement.В So there's sort of the outline of the book of Hebrews.В

But Hebrews 11 really doesn't end with verse 40, does it?В You know those chapter divisions were put in a long time after the New Testament was written and the first three verses, at least, of Hebrews chapter 12 are almost the culmination of what has been said in Hebrews 11.В All these great examples have been given of Moses and Abraham; now he's going to point us to Jesus!В He's going to say, “Let me give you another encouragement from somebody's example.В Let me tell you about Jesus.”В And he does that especially in verses 2 and 3.В So there's a sense in which, even though there's a chapter division, this is actually the culminating point of these examples that he has been giving already in Hebrews chapter 11.В So though we've bid a fond farewell to Hebrews 11 last week, we're really on the same theme.В It's the culmination; it's the climax of that theme, as he points us to Jesus Christ.В

Now in this passage, he is teaching us about how to live the Christian life.В And whenever I come across passages in the New Testament that are directly telling me how to live the Christian life, I want to tell you, I perk up because I need all the help I can get.В I really do.В He's not giving us simple, simplistic formulaic exhortations.В You know, “Six Ways to Have Success in the Christian Life.”В It's nothing like that.В But he is telling us some things that are decisive for growing in grace and for living in Christian joy in this life.В And I want you to be on the lookout for those things.

First, if you’ll look at verse 1, you will see the word, “lay aside.”В The first thing that he tells us to do is to lay certain things aside.В That's absolutely key to living the Christian life - divesting yourself of certain things.В So be on the lookout for that.

Second, notice also at the end of verse 1, he says, “run.”В In other words, he views the Christian life not as something that is passive but something that we have to throw ourselves into.В And the metaphors here are going to be very athletic.В You almost feel like you’re in a passage in the apostle Paul where he's using wrestling as a metaphor or long-distance running as a metaphor.В And that is precisely the athletic metaphor here.В So guys, if you like sports, the author of Hebrews is giving you a great athletic metaphor in the first three verses of Hebrews chapter 12 for living the Christian life.В And it's long-distance running that he's appealing to.

Third, if you’ll look at verse 2, the next word you’ll see is, “looking to Jesus.”В Now that's not an imperative, “Look to Jesus;” it actually is a word that tells you how you run.В You run looking to Jesus.В Now that metaphor's a little bit mixed.В He's telling you to run looking up, which is maybe not good advice for night time marathon runners, but it's really good advice for living the Christian life.В So first, “lay aside,” then, “run,” then, “looking to Jesus,” or “look to Jesus.”

And then finally look at verse 3.В He's going to tell you to, “consider him.”В Consider who?В Consider Jesus.В

Now be on the lookout for that, and let me tell you one more thing.В Those are the four things that we're going to concentrate on in this passage.В Before you even get through the first part of the first sentence, look back in verse 1.В He has given you a specific context in which you are to understand yourself in living the Christian life.В And the picture is the picture of a great arena filled with your forbearers in the faith who are cheering you on.В You are now rounding the final bend and ending the ultra-marathon and the stadium is filled with your encouragers, like Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses and Elijah and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Paul and Jesus, encouraging you on to cross the finish line.В It's an encouraging metaphor.В Just hold that in the back of your mind because I want to say a few words about it before we're done today.

Before we read God's Word, let pray and ask for His help and blessing.

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word; we need it.В We need encouragement to live the Christian life which is so often a long and arduous obedience in the same direction with the interruptions of trials and tribulations and wanderings.В And we are prone to wander, Lord. We feel it.В And so we ask that You would not only seal our hearts but that You would also guide us by Your Holy Spirit and energize us so that we finish the race.В Help us even as we study this passage today to be encouraged in living the Christian life.В We ask this in Jesus' name, amen.

This is the Word of God.В Hear it beginning in Hebrews 12 verse 1:

“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.”В

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.В May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

An Energizing Picture of Encouragement

The author of Hebrews is telling us to fix our eyes on Jesus and to run for the prize.В To live the Christian life you must fix your eyes on Jesus and prepare for a long-distance run.В The Christian life will not be lived by accident.В You will not grow in godliness as an accident.В It is something that is deliberate.В And the author of Hebrews is here to teach us several things that are essential to living that Christian life.В And I want to look at them with you this morning.В But before we even get to those four, glorious aspects that I've already drawn to your attention, I want you to see the context for this.В Look at the very first phrase of verse 1 - “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.”В This is a picture of a host of your friends and forbearers in the faith, urging you on.В We've actually sung about this already in Philip Doddridge's text, “Awake, My Soul, Stretch Every Nerve.”В And I want you to feel the encouragement that is meant by that.В When he tells you about this cloud of witnesses that are watching you and urging you on in the Christian life, he does not mean to conjure up in your hearts worry, as if this is maybe the father or mother who you've never ever been able to please and they’re sort of looking down on you with disapprobation saying, “Well, there she goes again, messing up.”В Nor is this Matilda from the ladies garden club whose face looks like she has just taken a deep draft from a bucket of sardines as she expresses her disapproval of you in whatever aspect of life you have fallen short in her estimation.В This is an encouraging picture.В This is like the encouragement that you get from a friend who knows your weaknesses but knows your faults but has always been for you.В And whenever, by God's grace, you have been able to make a step forward in faith, that friend has been there to say, “I'm so proud of you.В I thank God for you.В I'm so glad you’re my friend.В Keep on going; don't give up.”В It's a glorious, energizing metaphor.

I can remember as a high school football player we had a running back on the team who was being recruited by SEC schools and on one occasion in the middle of practice we looked out and on the sidelines was Vince Dooley, the legendary coach at the University of Georgia.В Now he was not there to look at me or any of the rest of us.В None of us had aspirations for playing SEC football, I assure you, but he was there looking at our friend.В And all of us, we started blocking with a little bit more crispness, we started tackling with a little more aggression, because Vince Dooley was on the sidelines watching and we wanted to be at our best!В That's the kind of energizing picture that's being shared with us here.В Look who's watching!В You've got an arena full of the people who most want you to success and there in the midst of Abraham and Isaac and Moses and Elijah is Jesus and He's got His eyes fixed on you and He wants you to cross the finish line.В

Maybe you've had that experience when you were playing as a musician in some ensemble and the composer who wrote the piece of music that you’re singing or playing is there in the audience and you just want to do it just a little better because he's there.В This is the energizing picture that's being painted for us in the very first part of verse 1.В It's there to encourage you on, not to make you wonder, “Oh no, are they looking down on me and thinking that I'm messing up?” but to energize you to stretch every nerve.

I. Lay Aside Every Obstacle

Now in light of that context, what does the author of Hebrews say?В Four things.В The first thing he says - and this is interesting that he starts out this way - the first thing that he says is that if you are going to live the Christian life there are some things you’re going to have to lay aside.В In that positive environment of the first part of verse 1, the first thing he says is negative!В If you’re going to live the Christian life there are some things you’re going to have to lay aside.В Why does he say that?В Because he knows that part of the Christian life is recognizing the obstacles.В And I love what he says that we need to lay aside.В Look at verse 1.В “Lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely.”В My big obstacles in living the Christian life are not out there; they’re in here.В And it's interesting to me that he says not only to lay aside sin, though he does say that, he says to lay aside every weight.В In other words, he's talking about both hindrances and sin.В There are some things that are perfectly good in and of themselves which are not helpful in living the Christian life.В And so he draws attention to both laying aside sin and hindrances.В

The Hindrance of Small, Besetting Sins
Think of it, my friends.В So often in the Christian life smaller, besetting sins get us, rather than the bigger, headline sins.В I have a friend who was the president of a large evangelical institution in the Midwest in the United States - brilliant scholar, terrific public speaker and communicator, excellent leader, but he had an anger problem and he would explode with his senior staff in anger.В And eventually he was fired by his board of trustees because of his anger problem.В He didn't commit adultery, he didn't murder anybody, he didn't embezzle or misuse funds; he had a temper that was out of control and it cost him his job.В And I'm glad to say that he is serving fruitfully and faithfully in leadership again but it has been a long, hard road because of an anger problem of all things.В I've seen marriages end not because of adultery or abuse but simply because of laziness or dishonesty.В The author of Hebrews is saying if you’re going to live the Christian life there are some sins that you’re going to have to set aside and there are hindrances that you’re going to have to set aside.В

The Hindrance of Good and Right Desires
And again, I love that emphasis here because there are desires that we can have that can actually undermine our ability to live the Christian life - good desires, desires for good things.В You may long for a husband or a wife and God hasn't seen fit to give that to you.В Or you may long for a better relationship with your husband or wife.В Or you may wish that your husband or wife was improved.В Or you may wish for children or that your children were walking with the Lord.В Or for a vocation where you could, with more clarity, serve the Lord and His kingdom.В Or for family relations that are better.В And a thousand other legitimate things.В And those things may so consume you when you do not have them that you are unable, with a single eye, to pursue the goal, the prize - Christ.В And if so, those things are hindrances that have to be laid aside to live the Christian life.В And that's the first thing that the author of Hebrews says.В If you want to live the Christian life there are some things that are just going to have to be laid aside.

II. Running the Race with Endurance

Second, notice he says, “run.”В And I love that he doesn't just say, “run.”В Look at the end of verse 1.В “Let us run with endurance the race.”В Now it is clear, if you look at the end of verse 1 and look at the end of verse 3, “so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted,” that was sports lingo from the first century.В Growing weary and fainthearted was the word that was used for long-distance athletes who conked out before they finished the race.В They couldn't make it to the finish line because they were so exhausted.В And so the metaphor here is of a distance race.В And that is so important as we contemplate the Christian life.В Why is he telling us this?В Because if we don't realize the challenge of living the Christian life, our hopes will be distorted by unrealistic expectations.В One of the things I love about this passage is it's filled with hope and encouragement but it's utterly realistic.В The big obstacles that we face in living the Christian life?В Not out there; in here!В The Christian life, easy-peasy?В No!В It's an endurance race.В The author of Hebrews is telling us that we need to be realistic with just how great a challenge the Christian life is.В We need to be ready in our minds to run it the whole distance.

The Utterly Realistic Portrayal of Scripture
I was talking with some of the elders just in the last two weeks about the movement that erupted in the 1970's - rediscovering reformed theology and the doctrines of grace.В And many of you know it and were caught up in it yourself.В I was a teenager then; I remember the books proliferating.В I remember going to conferences even as a teenager and hearing the glories of classic reformation theology - a high view of God, a high view of Scripture, a high view of grace.В But along with that eruption of rich, helpful truth in writing and in preaching, came some unrealistic expectations, and very frankly, a little bit of arrogance.В You know there was the idea that those of us who had been exposed to this theology of grace, we were “the fellowship of the arrived.”В You know, we had our act together.В The rest of you guys out there; we're not sure.В And we were going to go out and conquer the world.В We had a worldview.В We had good theology.В We understood sanctification.В

In fact I was going back just this last week and I saw a quote from one of the books that emerged in those days and this is how it reads.В “The man who is being progressively sanctified will inescapably sanctify his home, school, politics, economics, science, and all things else by understanding and interpreting all things in terms of the Word of God.”В Well my friends, it's a good thing to want to sanctify everything by the Word of God, it's a good thing to have an aspiration to see all things brought under the lordship of Christ, but do you hear the hubris in that statement?В Like, “We’re going to follow five easy steps and we've got it done.”В And the Christian life isn't that way.В There are many dangers, toils, and snares before we come home.В The picture that's being painted in this passage is one of hard, obstacle-filled, endurance race.В

The Christian Life: Running the Long Haul
Kent Hughes tells the story of a man that, I think, none of you have ever heard of.В His name was Bill Broadhurst and he ran the 10,000 meter Pepsi Challenge in Omaha, Nebraska in 1981.В Pretty sure that none of you have ever heard of that or him, but he's the perfect illustration of this point.В Bill Broadhurst, in 1971, had a brain aneurism and the doctors saved his life.В But in the course of the surgery that saved his life he was paralyzed on the left side of his body.В For ten years he labored to learn to walk again and then to be able to jog.В And in July of 1981 he was lined up along with 1,200 other runners at the Pepsi Challenge 10,000 meter run in Omaha, Nebraska.В Now along with them was Bill Rodgers.В Some of you may know the name, Bill Rodgers.В Bill Rodgers won the Boston Marathon and the New York City Marathon four times, set the record for the Boston Marathon in two hours and nine minutes in 1975.В And there he was in the race with Bill Rodgers.В Bill Rodgers, I'm not sure what his time was when he finished, but a lot of people finished that 10,000 meter run in thirty minutes or less.В Bill Broadhurst finished that run in two hours and thirty minutes - painful, loafing step all the way.В You can imagine what that must have felt like physically, but he finished.В And at the finish line waiting for him was Bill Rodgers, the New York City Marathon, Boston Marathon winner, who took his gold medal off and put it on Bill Broadhurst when he crossed the line.

Now I was told ,by the way, after the service by one of our members that back in the ‘70's, I don't know whether they do it now, at the Boston Marathon it is typical at the press conference for the winner and the person who has finished last to be interviewed by the press.В And I wonder if Bill Rodgers got the idea of doing this because of his experience at the Boston Marathon.В But it's a beautiful picture, isn't it?В Rodgers was honoring the man who had labored two and a half hours to just get across the finish line.В And in fact when he was interviewed at the Boston Marathon years earlier he would say, “You shouldn't be interviewing me; you should be interviewing this guy who took eight hours to finish!В Can you imagine running for eight hours?”В Well my friends, that's the picture of the Christian life.В It's not unabated success; onward and upward!В No obstacles; victory after victory!В It's a long-distance run.В It's a long obedience in the same direction with many dangers, toils, and snares along the way.

You know this morning, I'm not going to embarrass her, this morning one of your fellow members completed sixty-five years of teaching children's Sunday School at First Presbyterian Church.В She's sitting in this room right now.В My friends, that's a long obedience in the same direction.В That's what the author of Hebrews is talking about.В Just yesterday afternoon as I was preparing for the wedding last night, I ran across a column in the newspaper about a couple who had been married for seventy-two years and this week they died together, in the hospital, one hour apart from one another holding hands.В When you start out in the Christian life, are you ready for the long haul?В Or do you think it's just going to be a short burst and follow through your four principles and everything is going to be great?В The author of Hebrews is so helpful in his realism here.В You've got to be ready to run the race.В And can I just say that there is nothing passive about that metaphor.В There is absolutely nothing passive about that metaphor.В If you’re going to live the Christian life it's going to be done deliberately and with endurance.

III. “Looking unto Jesus”

Third, look at verse 2 - “looking unto Jesus.”В Now here, the author of Hebrews is asking us to reorient our whole life to Jesus.В We’re to run with endurance, we're not to grow weary and fainthearted, but we're to look to Jesus.В And notice what's said here.В Twice in this passage, in verse 2 and 3, we're told that Jesus endured.В In verse 2 that He endured the cross; in verse 3 that He endured the hostility of sinners.В So notice he asks you to endure but he says God never asks you to do what He has not already done before you.В Jesus has already endured, so look to Jesus.В And notice especially what he says about Jesus in verse 2.В “Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame.”В Why?В How?В Because of what?В Well look at the first part of the verse.В “Because of the joy that was set before him.”В How did Jesus endure the cross?В Because He looked at the joy that was set before Him.В He says, “How are you going to endure the race?В Because you’re going to look to Jesus who is the joy set before you!”

Ultimate Satisfaction apart from God does not exist
My friends, this is one of the reasons why we have to lay aside the hindrances of good but not ultimate desires, because God has not ordained that you will have full satisfaction of your desires apart from Him.В Satisfaction apart from God does not exist.В And so unless your eyes are fixed on Jesus - if they’re fixed on anything lower than that you will be disappointed in this life.В Jesus is our treasure.В Jesus is our reward.В Jesus is our satisfaction.В Jesus is our fulfillment.

One of the elders stopped me after the early service and said that he has been reading a book written in 1901 on the history of Spain. Now you’re thinking, “What good is going to come out of this book?”В Listen to this quote.В “The annals of happiness are brief in this life.”В That's the quote.В Boy, that's a keeper.В “The annals of happiness are brief in this life.”В If you’re looking for happiness in this life apart from Jesus, apart from God, that happiness will be ephemeral, it will be fleeting.В But if we live this life looking to Jesus we will never be disappointed because no one can take that away from you, no one.

IV. Reflect on the Experience of Jesus

Fourth and finally, look at verse 3.В “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself.”В He asks you to reflect on the experience of Jesus.В He's saying, “Don't let the hostility of the world break down your hope and your faith.”В And he says, “Remember, your Jesus was not number one on the Top 40 charts!В He was hated and killed by His contemporaries.В Sinners were filled with hostility toward Him, so don't you be discouraged by hostility from this world.”В This is a very important lesson for us in this day and time.В My friends, we are all entering into a new era of our relationship with our culture.В Thirty, forty, fifty years ago, the vestiges of a Christian outlook on this world still pervaded this society.В Today that is rapidly disappearing.В You are now suspected or even publically accused of being hate mongers simply because you believe the Bible.В Simply for believing what the Bible teaches about marriage, about the relationships between men and women, you are viewed as a hate group.В Some of you will lose your jobs because of this.В And it is very possible in that context to lose hope and to get angry.В And the author of Hebrews says, “Look at Jesus.В You were expecting something different?В You’re His followers!В Expect the hostility of sinners and love them like He did anyway, because the Gospel still works, whether they think it does or not!”В This is huge for us, my friends.

A Cultural Parallel
I've been trying to think over the last few weeks what is this time that we are in like, and I think I've come upon an example from our past history.В I think it is like the Great Ejection of 1662 in England.В Now maybe you don't remember your English history but here is how it goes.В In 1662 in England, there was a strong reaction against the Puritan movement that had been going on for a hundred years and two thousand ministers were kicked out of the Church of England, out of their churches, out of their manses, and forbidden to preach because they refused to sign an oath of loyalty to King and Church.В And it had a profound effect on society.В It meant that the rich, experiential theology of the Puritans was outlawed.В And if you've read anything from that era that's called The Cavalier's Era, there is a hatred for all things Puritan.В

My friends, we live in a culture where Christianity itself is being rapidly disestablished and marginalized.В And we can either get depressed about that or angry about that or we can look at Jesus who was despised by sinners and still said that He had come to seek and to save them and still said that He loved them and still died for them.В Oh my friends, the author of Hebrews is telling us exactly what we need to know to live the Christian life right now.В Lay aside sin and hindrances, be prepared to run a long race, look to Jesus - He's your prize - and when you think you’re having it rough, consider what Jesus did and look at what He did and follow Him.В Yes, yes!В That's how to live the Christian life.В Let's pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word.В Bless it to our hearts, enable us to live the life by faith, through the grace of the Holy Spirit.В We pray in Jesus' name, amen.

Now if you’d take your hymnals in hand, I'd invite you to turn - what is it?В 288?В It's 188.В 188 - “Jesus, I Am Resting, Resting” and especially pay attention to the words of encouragement of Jesus to you.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.В Amen.

© First Presbyterian Church.

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