“Great Issues Of Life” Series #3
TEXT: Hebrews 12:1-3, 12-13, 18-24
INTRO: Picture these scenes: You're grocery shopping ... down aisle B you travel to the sounds of classical music…
You're in your favorite restaurant ... the lights are low; the corner table is yours as a violinist serenades you during your meal ... it's your anniversary and you actually remembered the right date – you even got your wife flowers!
You woke up with a headache ... the kids are screaming, schools out and they’re bored at home ... the telephone just rang for the 5th call since 7 a.m., and the pot roast burnt about the same time you were trying to figure out why the washing machine quit mid cycle!
You just sat down to do your budget, your monthly income was up this month, almost $1,500 this month ... then the total for the bills comes to $1,750 for the same time period ... next morning the Pastor preaches on tithing!
You just discovered you are the winner of a $10,000 dollar sweepstakes ... and that afternoon in the mail you receive a letter from the IRS stating that a serious error had been found on previous tax forms ... the government owes you $5,000 dollars in returns ... then your husband comes home and announces he just got a huge raise and promotion that will require less work and less hours but with much more income ... the kids bring their reports cards home and they both have straight A's and the comments at the bottom says, "Model children!"
TRANS. SENT: Moods obviously affect to a great deal our behavior ... and our persistence in setting out to do something (or not do something!) ... thus it is important HOW we look at things in life, not just what we do with things!
PROP. SENT: The Bible teaches us to “guard our hearts and minds” ... to set out to deliberately fix our moods or attitudes toward Christ ... and stick to our faith! Christianity doesn't just happen to us ... we are active participants in the process and we deeply affect the process!
I. STUBBORNNESS THAT'S RIGHT! Heb. 12:1-3
A. History! Heb. 12:la
1. "Surrounded" by a great cloud of "witnesses" (Greek lit: "Testifiers")
a. The Greek work for "witness" comes from "marturos" (“marturwn”) ... our English word "Martyr" comes from it ... but,
b. The Biblical concept of “martyr” has changed over the years ... it didn't mean then "one who died for their faith" ... but “one who TESTIFIED about their faith,” whether they lived or died!
2. We are not alone in the struggle of faith ... next time you feel lonely think of yourself within a huge stadium surrounded by all the believers who have died in faith and they are cheering you on!
3. Struggling is not just YOUR THING ... it has been every believer's experience!
4. Others have struggled and survived ... or conquered ... so can you!
ILLUS: By 7 p.m. on October 20, 1968, at the Mexico City Olympics Stadium, it was beginning to darken. It had cooled down as well. The last of the Olympic marathon runners were being assisted away to first-aid stations. Over an hour earlier, Mamo Waldi of Ethiopia had charged across the finish line, winning the 26-mile, 385-yard race looking as strong and as vigorous as when he'd started. As the last few thousand spectators began preparing to leave, they heard police sirens and whistles through the gate entering the stadium. The attention turned to that gate. A sole figure, wearing the colors of Tanzania, came limping into the stadium. His name was John Steven Aquari. He was the last man to finish the marathon in 1968. His leg was bandaged, bloody. He had taken a bad fall early in the race. Now, it was all he could do to limp his way around the track. The crowd stood and applauded as he completed that last lap. When he finally crossed the finish line, one man dared ask the question all were wondering. "You are badly injured. Why didn't you quit? Why didn't you give up?" Aquari, with quiet dignity said, "My country did not send me seven thousand miles to start this race. My country sent me to finish." So it is with God. God didn't just send you to start this race. He didn't just send you to begin a noble task or a noble relationship. God sent you both to start and to finish. -- Craig Brian Larson, "Strong to the Finish," Preaching Today, Tape No. 155.
5. If we allow ourselves to sit in self-pity and get moody we might be tempted to quit!
B. Hindrances Heb. 12:lb
1. Here we are told what to do when such times come:
a. “Throw off everything that hinders our progress” ... this is an active process on our part!
b. AND to “throw off any sin that so easily entangles us!”
c. Thus it is NOT JUST sins the writer is referring to since there can be other "things" that can hinder us ... such as improper perspective and improper moods, anything that gets in the way of our making progress spiritually!
2. Since the analogy of the text refers to runners in the stadium games the image is important ... a good runner knows that the less stuff you carry the longer you will be able to run!
a. Excess baggage will wear you out!
b. Nobody runs with the idea that they will quit before the finish line either!
c. Pacing oneself is critical in a running race also ... don't run too fast at first though you feel you can whip the world ... you'll need the stamina later ... even out the pace from first to last!
3. Denial can be our worst enemy at this stage, we have a tendency to deny that "things" can hinder our efforts:
ILLUS: Like the old dessert nomad who awakened hungry in the middle of the night, he lit a candle and began eating dates from a bowl near his bed ... he took a bite from the first one and noticed a worm in it ... tried a second, again a worm ... and third ... and a fourth, still worms! Finally he came upon a solution ... he would blow the light out and eat them in the dark, then he wouldn't know ... and so he ate them all in the dark! – Source Unknown
4. Denial doesn't solve our problems ... it only hides them temporarily!
C. Headstrong! Heb. 12:lc-3
1. "Run with perseverance..." Heb. 12:lc
a. There is no other way to run in a race!
b. You don't enter a race just to run only as far as you feel like running!
c. Will must overcome mood ... or at least control it!
2. Notice to the end of this verse he calls the race, "the race marked out for us."
a. In other words ... we don't always get to choose the route ... we just follow it!
b. Short-cuts will only disqualify us…
ILLUS: Several years ago a woman in the Boston Marathon was disqualified because it was discovered later that she had taken some short-cuts when she thought no one had been looking ... she thought she could win her own way! – Source Unknown
3. Heb. 12:2 adds: "FIX our eyes on Jesus" … “the author and finisher of our faith...”
a. A good runner doesn't allow himself to look at where the other runners are in relationship to himself/herself!
ILLUS: One year in the Olympics the guy out front coming to the finish line was so confident of his victory that he decided it would be completely safe to turn his head to see where the next guy was ... he did, and he lost his pace and the guy just behind him soon passed him just as they hit the finish line! – Source Unknown
b. Broken concentration can be costly in a race!
c. Many runners will mark out a single item down track and keep their eyes completely set on that mark as a focal point.
d. Jesus should be the only object we focus on for setting our own pace and goals ... not on the other runners!
4. There is no denial in the text that running will be with pain ... in fact since Jesus is referred to it clearly states that Jesus ran with joy ... knowing that the suffering and shame of the cross would bring great honors later!
a. The statement that Jesus endured with JOY helped establish Jesus' mood during suffering!
b. It is not the absence of pain that is the Christian's goal ... it is the reward in spite of pain!
ILLUS: One of the greatest men of the 20th century, Winston Churchill was asked to give his final speech near the end of his life in 1955. In great pain he was helped to the podium where he stood for a very long time with his head hung low in weakness, barely standing he finally raised his head and delivered his final message to the world, "NEVER GIVE UP ... NEVER GIVE UP ... NEVER GIVE UP!" Then he turned and sat down ... his speech over, the last one he ever gave ... but the message spoke volumes! – Source Unknown
5. Victory comes to the persistent ... not to the quitters or to those who mope!
6. Verse 3 is really acknowledging the fact that there will be those times when we WILL feel weary and FEEL like quitting!
a. What we are to do is look at Jesus ... He didn't quit or give up, or lose heart because He kept the long range victory in focus during His suffering.
b. This we must do when we are confused and feel God doesn't care or love us ... if you can't handle the present ... then simply think about the future!
II. SMOOTHING THE ROAD! Heb. 12:12-13
A. Hopeful! Heb. 12:12
1. Notice the "active" nature of the commands here: "Strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees... "
a. Certainly our flesh is weak ... and even our spirit is not always on top ... we cannot just sit however waiting to be zapped!
b. Inherent in this statement is the note of responsibility on our part to search out a way to “strengthen our weak arms and weak knees!”
2. Since we are commanded to do so ... it must also be possible! God doesn't ask us to do what we can't do ... at least without His help!
3. Hence the note of hope is found within the statement!
a. It is possible to have our "feeble" arms strengthened!
b. Our “weak knees” can be made strong!
c. You do note however that we are asked to do this … meaning there is a responsibility on our part to strengthen ourselves!
4. Keeping to the runner's analogy used at the start of the chapter can help us define some of the "how to:"
a. Regular exercise!
b. Practice, practice, practice!
c. Studying the route until it is well memorized!
d. Listen to the coach!
e. Even the knowledge that a host of other runners have made it already should be encouraging!
f. This is no ordinary race ... it is not optional!
5. One way to strengthen ourselves is by simply realizing how important this race is ... more so than any other!
ILLUS: Years ago when Apple computer fell on tough times, Steven Jobs, the chairman sought out one of the best executives in the country in the hopes of saving his young company. He went to New York to meet with the top executive of the PEPSI Company. John Sculley, Pepsi's executive didn't seem too anxious, finally he stated he would take the company but with the following demands:
a. A $1,000,000 salary
b. A $1,000,000 bonus
c. A $1,000,000 severance pay ... Steven Jobs, desperate, finally gulped and agreed.
Then Scully added, "And I would stay in New York and act as consultant only!" At this Jobs flinched, finally Jobs said, "Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want to change the world?" It knocked the wind out of Sculley, who realized he would rather spend his life doing something that could really impact the world rather than just make soda ... and he moved to California and turned Apple around! – Source Unknown
6. No race is more important than the one we are in for Christ!
B. Healing! Heb. 12:13
1. "Make level paths for your feet..."
a. The quality of the path we follow is partly our responsibility!
b. We can help keep that path clear or let it get cluttered and increase the change of tripping!
2. Many runners will walk a course through its entirety to get the sense of what the course is like and to check it out for any pits, holes, or bumps ... even to clear debris if necessary before they run!
a. It is obviously easier to run on steady even ground than it is to run up-hill!
b. How many Christians however by not “leveling” some of the issues in their lives find that they are always running up-hill and thus they tire easily!
c. Check out the course and make necessary corrections!
ILLUS: Probably everyone has seen the old opening scenes from ABC's Wide World of Sports! ... this skier who falls to the side of the path on the way down a jump and hurtles through fences head over heels, plowing through people and all kinds of stuff off the side of the run! The man this happened to planned it that way! As he was coming down the jump he noticed that the hill was way faster than what was safe ... if he had made the jump he would have traveled past the point of safe landing and would have been likely killed ... instead he chose to just fall and ride out the spill ... unbelievably the man only sustained a slight headache and no injuries ... he made a wise decision to save his life by not trying to fly too far too fast ... and what a sight to see every time ABC airs the scene! – Source Unknown
III. SUBSTANTIAL REALITY Heb. 12:18-24
A. Heavy! Heb. 12:18-21
1. Before Christ's death on the cross, believers had a heavy course to follow:
a. Constant sacrifices of blood!
b. Laws that had little room for error in them!
c. Fear was the main course of faith!
d. God was distance in terms of fellowship ... spoke through thunders, etc.
2. There was much one had to do -- just to approach God; hours of preparations were required, etc.
3. Under the Old Covenant the weight of their sins weighed in on them before a Holy God ... approach was careful and very specific in nature ... timely too!
4. Even Moses said, "I AM TREMBLING WITH FEAR!" And he had a face to face relationship with God!
B. Heavenly! Heb. 12:22-24
1. Fortunately we have a new mountain we can come to! MOUNT ZION!
a. To a heavenly Jerusalem that actually lives up to its name: “CITY OF PEACE”
b. Instead of hiding in fear from God and His angels we can JOIN THEM!
c. Celebration marks the NEW COVENANT faith, not fear!
2. Instead of focusing on our guilt ... we can focus on forgiveness!
3. Grace has overwhelmed Law ... and we have had God's grace “POURED out on us” in Christ!
4. We are the guilty prisoners who have been set free and pardoned from sin and guilt ... free to live a new life!
ILLUS: The 18th century King of Prussia; King Frederick II was visiting the Berlin prison one day to speak with the inmates. As he went from cell to cell each prisoner tried their hardest to convince the king of their real innocence. Each one after the other told stories of how they had been unjustly convicted and imprisoned ... until one guy when the King asked, "Were you guilty?" replied like this: "Yes sir, I entirely deserve my punishment." The King was taken by this prisoner and asked him, "what are your crimes?" He responded, "Armed robbery your honor." Suddenly the King gave an order to the prison officials right on the spot, "Release this guilty man immediately ... I don't want him corrupting all these other innocent prisoners!" Confession had won his release, while those who had denied their sin remained in jail! THE KING HAS SET US FREE ... THOUGH WE WERE GUILTY! – Source Unknown
5. The blood of Jesus speaks a better covenant than did the blood of Abel ... or that of animals!
6. We have therefore, a bold faith ... one that rejoices ... our MOOD CAN BE UP - even when we feel down!
7. The NEW COVENANT in Christ gives us the ability to run and make the goal line ... REMEMBER "NEVER GIVE UP, NEVER GIVE UP, NEVER GIVE UP!"
CONCLUSION: A great deal of how we feel about life is at our own control! Much of how we feel, and how we respond is a matter of choices, including moods! Moods influence perspective, and perspective affects action! The good news is we are not alone in the race!