The "Let Us" Series From The Book Of Hebrews #9




TEXT:         Hebrews 12:1b


INTRO:       I am always amazed at the athletes during the winter and summer Olympics.  I am amazed because they have perfected their bodies to push the envelope of human endurance to set new world records and to be the best in the world in their particular sport.


How do they get there?  I have exercised at times, run a little here and a little there, but there is no way I could run in a race with those guys and gals.  They got there by constant and persistent training.  They have to learn to persevere through pain, through hardships, through long hours of training, and only then can they even begin to think of competing for the highest honor among athletic endeavors.  If you want to be the best, you must persevere!


ILLUS:     The job of a football coach is to make men do what they don't want to do, in order to achieve what they've always wanted to be. -- Tom Landry, Leadership, Vol. 7, no. 3.


It is precisely this concept that the writer of Hebrews has in mind in this one kick off verse to chapter 12.  In fact, it is likely the writer has in mind the Olympics which were a reality back in his own day.  The verse starts by talking about a great crowd of witnesses, like at an Olympic event, and the discipline training that an Olympic athlete would have to endure to achieve his or her goal.  He is specific in his use of analogy here to those who ran races.


As in our own day of the Olympics, races were set up and the course decided by the Olympic committee, all the runner had to do was run the race marked out faster and better than any other runner to win the gold.  The writer of Hebrews likens this to the race God has marked out for each of us, and encourages us to run it with perseverance.


PROP. SENT:      The Bible teaches us that God has established a course and race for every one of His followers.  To achieve what He has in mind for our lives we will need to run with perseverance, even when it gets tough in life.


I.   PERSEVERENCE!   Heb. 12:1b


A.   Discipline!     Heb. 12:1b

1.   With the writer of Hebrews use of running a race he is clearly indicating that life will at times be difficult and challenging – all races were in the Olympics. 

a.   There has never been an “easy” race in world competition!

b.   Living the life of faith is going to be tough at times!

c.   Like any Olympic runner, there are days when you simply have to push through to stay in the game.

d.   Yes, it can be hard to be a Christian, but it is also going to be worth the crown at the end.


ILLUS:     Lord Joseph Duveen, American head of the art firm that bore his name, planned in 1915 to send one of his experts to England to examine some ancient pottery.  He booked passage on the Lusitania.  Then the German Embassy issued a warning that the liner might be torpedoed. Duveen wanted to call off the trip.

         "I can't take the risk of your being killed," he said to his young employee.  "Don't worry," said the man, "I'm a strong swimmer, and when I read what was happening in the Atlantic, I began hardening myself by spending time every day in a tub of ice water.  At first I could sit only a few minutes, but this morning, I stayed in that tub nearly two hours."

         Naturally, Duveen laughed.  It sounded preposterous.  But his expert sailed, and the Lusitania was torpedoed.  The young man was rescued after nearly five hours in the chilly ocean, still in excellent condition.  Just as this young man did, so Christians should condition themselves by practicing devotional discipline, behavioral discipline, and discipline in doing good.  -- Cited in Christianity Today, February 1979, p. 25. 


2.   The context of Chapter 11 included a long list of names of God’s people who were delivered from difficulties, AND some who were not, but still had faith.  This is the challenge of living by faith, sometimes we have to have the discipline to believe and trust God when things don’t work out like we would like.  And, in such tough times we have to have the discipline when this happens of continuing to press on in our walk with God, trusting in the ultimate prize.

a.   The athlete who competed sometimes had painful experiences and setbacks during the race, but the only thing they had in mind when these things happened was the goal line!

b.   As God’s people we will at times encounter setbacks, painful experiences that would otherwise take us out of the race, but the true athlete just doesn’t stop, he/she perseveres through the pain with the goal line in mind, and the ultimate prize.

c.   The only way to do this is to simply persevere, to keep going.

d.   Notice that is precisely what the writer in Heb. 12:1b states, “…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

e.   To do that requires a stubborn but positive discipline.

3.   Runners understand that there is a place during a long race when you have to push through the pain to catch a second wind.  There is a place while running where you simply want to quit, your body screams in pain and says, “Enough already!”  It is at this point that all the discipline of preparation and perseverance in training has to kick in order to finish and win!


ILLUS:       Have you ever noticed that world-class runners have a "kick?" A kick is a technical runner's term that means when they get to that last one hundred yards or so, the runner can still sprint. No matter how much he's run before, he can sprint that last leg to the finish line and win that race. God wants you to have a kick. No matter what your circumstance, God wants you to finish strong. -- Craig Brian Larson, "Strong to the Finish," Preaching Today, Tape No. 155.


a.   Ironically, when the running hits this “wall” of pain and does not stop, the body kicks into another mode and they catch what is known as the “second wind.”

b.   When your body realizes that all its screaming won’t stop your run, it reorganizes to burn other kinds of energy off in order to give you the final push.

c.   Sometimes this includes the release of hormones in the brain called endorphins which actually give the runner a sense of exuberance and a sense of well being – it is the bodies natural way of controlling pain, they are natural narcotics that help diminish the pain.

d.   There are similar spiritual parallels to this, sometimes in our race in life we hit tough places, it is then when all the spiritual disciplines in our lives kick in and help us find God’s peace even when circumstances would dictate contrary wise.

e.   There is a “peace that passes understanding” – our spiritual endorphins that allow us to press through in painful times.  (Philip. 4:7)


B.   Determination!    Heb. 12:1b

1.   When everything says, “stop” our perseverance says, “keep going!”

a.   There are times when you would like to quit!

b.   Pain is always the natural way to get us to stop something.

(1.   But a true athlete knows that pain has to be evaluated and if it is just the pain from the run and not some broken part, you have to simply use determination or perseverance to push through the pain to victory.

(2.   We must learn this as God’s people too!

(3.   The writer is indicating that God has a race for each one of us, in order to achieve the goal line we will have times we will have to push through the pain and trust the strength of God to get us to the finish line where the prize awaits us.

2.   World class athletes are determined people.  World class believers are too!

3.   God help us as His people to show the world that we are not quitters, that we will endure the race with perseverance and show others what the power of faith can do!


ILLUS:      An explorer named Fridtjof Nansen was lost with one companion in the Arctic wastes. By miscalculation they ran out of all their supplies.  They ate their dogs, the dog's harnesses, the whale oil for their lamps.  Nansen's companion gave up and lay down to die. But Nansen did not give up. He told himself, "I can take one step more."  As he plodded heavily through the bitter cold, step after step, suddenly across an ice hill he stumbled upon an American expedition that had been sent out to find him. -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 160.


4.   This world does everything it can to live easy, and our bodies today tell the story of a life that is so sedentary that our bodies could hardly endure a small trial of pain.

5.   I wonder if this is true in many of our churches as well, a little pain and many believers are ready to quit, they no longer feel they can trust God who has disappointed their expectations.

6.   The problem may be the false expectations!  There is not a world class runner on this planet that assumes running their race is going to be without difficulties or pain! 

a.   But they are not focused on the pain or difficulties!

b.   They are focused on the prize!

c.   And if an earthly medal of gold, or a wreath as it was in the first century was enough to make them endure through endless hours of pain and struggle, how much more for us who know that at the finish line there awaits us the crown of life for eternity with God!

d.   This life is not just about getting more stuff, more money, more ease, it is about running the race that God has marked out for us and not quitting, persevering to the very end!

(1.   This is what the writer in Hebrews is trying to convey.

(2.   If earthly runners will discipline and endure their race for a simple wreath, or even a gold medal today – how much more should we endure for the crown of life?

(3.   We need believers today that simply don’t quit!

(4.   We need believers today who will persevere through the trials of pain and setbacks, to keep running and running well to the very end.


II.   PATH    Heb. 12:1b


A.   Destiny!   Heb. 12:1b

1.   God marked out a race for each one of us, we all have a destiny to fulfill.  Notice his statement: “…let us run with perseverance THE RACE MARKED OUT FOR US.”  (emphasis mine)

2.   We are not just stumbling through life with no road to follow.  God has for each one of us a race to endure, a path to follow, a destiny to fulfill.

a.   We are here with purpose in this life!

b.   We will have to discover the path He has created for us to fulfill, and then pursue that with all our hearts.


ILLUS:     Following the path of least resistance is what makes people and rivers crooked.  People seldom drift to success.  -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 468.


3.   We can stray off course if we are not obedient to the one who has set that path for us!

a.   A runner listens to his coach – the coach knows the best route, and the proper pacing for the runner.  If for some reason the runner chooses not to obey his/her coach he invites possible defeat in his run.

b.   God has given us the path – it is in His Word.  Obedience to the Word of God is the best way to ensure that we stay on the path of righteousness, which is the path that brings us to the finish line.

4.   Jesus declared that He Himself is the PATH.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me.”  (Jn. 14:6)

a.   The only path God has ordained for men to follow is Jesus Himself!

b.   All other roads lead away from the finish line where awaits the prize.

c.   Tragically, there will be many who will run their own race throughout their lifetime and fail to arrive at the proper finish line.

d.   It was a tragic thing when a runner went off the proper path and had to be disqualified from the race – any other race except the one God has laid out for us all will lead to failure.

5.   It is truly sad when world class runners who had run so well their race discovered at the end that they had taken a wrong turn somewhere and because of that were disqualified by the officials and removed from becoming a winner.  It wouldn’t matter that they finished first if they took a wrong turn on the course, they still would be disqualified for failing to stay on the proper course!


B.   Destination!    Heb. 12:1b

1.   The whole point of running with perseverance is to WIN!

2.   Yes, there actually is a destination for living our lives, it is not just about having a good time during this lifetime, although that is not wrong in and of itself.


ILLUS:     If you ever get the opportunity to visit Egypt and the tombs and pyramids, study what was required to construct some of those monuments. Some studies revealed that it required the efforts of one hundred thousand workers for forty years to build one of the great pyramids. As you tour the area there, you can't help but ask why. Why so much effort? Why would somebody put that amount of emphasis on a tomb, on the afterlife?

   The answer is that the Egyptians understood full well they would spend a lot more time in the afterlife than they would spend in this life. Granted, some of their conceptions of what would happen in the afterlife were a little skewed. But the point is, they understood to the core of their being that the afterlife was a whole lot more important than this life, and so they prepared for the afterlife during this life. God had placed eternity in their hearts. -- Bill Hybels, "Your Ever After: Heaven," Preaching Today, Tape 34.


3.  There is a real point to living and living correctly.  The person who refuses to believe in God or eternity simply has no other destination in life than to please themselves. 

a.   Thus it shouldn’t surprise us that the goals for those who don’t know Christ are self-centered, or simply are geared toward finding happiness instead of finding holiness.

b.   Yet, at the end of their lives there will be no point to having lived if they don’t realize that this life is all preparation for the next.

c.   Someone once said, “if you don’t want God in your life here, do not expect to have Him in your life there!”

4.   What are you living for?

a.   Actually, the disciplines in your life will tell that story!

b.   What you strive for ultimately is what you believe in.

c.   A runner can truly believe they are winning the race while they are running, but tragically discover at the end that they lose because they ran the wrong race, or ran on the wrong path!

5.   In such cases the sadness is profound, because they ran hard, they were disciplined, they pushed through difficulties, but only at the end discovered they were disqualified for failure to run the right race!

6.   But oh the joy when we discover at the end that all the pain we pushed through, all the disciplines during life, all the training we endured pays off at the end and the crown of life is given to us!

a.   A crown that never fades away like the old wreaths given during the Olympics in antiquity, or even the gold medals given today.  There will come a day when gold will mean nothing.

b.   It will all be worth it one day, we just need to stay on course, push through the times of pain, trust the disciplines of spiritual exercises, and trust the path (Jesus) Who has guaranteed the race will be won!

c.   The destination is eternity with God, and joy forever more.


CONCLUSION:    Will it be worth all the spiritual exercises at the end of life, will it be worth pushing through all the painful events in life, the discouragement of struggles, the difficulties of hard work to stay on the path of righteousness?  You better believe it will be worth it all!  Christ has marked out a race for each one of us, and when we run with perseverance we will discover at the end of the race the crown of victory, the crown of life, and joy for evermore with God Himself. 


As the old chorus by Esther Kerr Rusthoi states, “It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus.  Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ;  One glimpse of His dear face all sorrow will erase, So bravely run the race till we see Christ.”