We all have childhood memories that, when we bring them into our mind’s eyes, almost make us quake. One of those memories for me was the annual cross country I had to take part in; There was nothing I would rather do less than run around a wet field in the early spring to beat other competitors. The whole premise of it was Stupid to me; it was bad enough that I had to chase cows during the fields, but at least that was to help dad – but a race through mud, up banks and down hills…. Pointless. It was one sport I could never enjoy nor understand – why would you want to learn to run through fields? Whether it was the School Cross country, which we seemed to do the odd Wednesday, or the BB Race, I never enjoyed it. I never enjoyed it, but the thing was that regardless of how I felt towards the sport when I started a race, I always finished it. Who would start a race and not want to finish it? It makes no sense! As such, when I found myself running around that muddy field (that you would not put cows in), no matter how long it took me, nor how well I was doing, I set my mind on the end and finishing. Why? because I had started, because when I looked across the lines, I could see my family and friends, and I did not want to let people down.
Today we take a break from our journey with Johns Gospel as Jesus walks the Cross Road to consider this short reading from Hebrews 12:1-3.1 A Passage that may be shorts, but packs a mighty punch for those who are following Jesus. A passage then reminds us about the essence of discipleship and following Jesus, a passage that challenges us to consider the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of our running the race that is before each of us. Today we are challenged to run the race that God has called each of us to, not because we want to win; no, but because we run with those whose lives are orientated to the same purpose – Jesus. Furthermore, we run the race because we follow one who had run the race before us and never lost sight of the purpose that God called him to. Hence, because he ran and finished, we can run today.
Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
We Never Walk Alone (1)
I think one of the most surreal consequences of covid can be seen every time we turn on the TV to watch sports. It does not matter if it is football, rugby, tennis or cycling. There is one thing missing in each event – a crowd. I am sure it must be great for away teams to head to a hostile ground and know that the only thing they will hear is the shout of the coaching staff or the opposition’s cries. Yet, how strange it must be to walk out into an empty stadium and try to motivate yourself. No doubt having a crowd motivates us, not always in a proud way, but because that crowd often wants the same thing and energises us towards the goal before us. Imagine the Olympics being held in an empty stadium, imagine training for the 100 meters and breaking the world record, and no one was there to celebrate with you. How surreal it must be; yes, the football teams know that there are thousands of fans cheering them on from home, and they see the comments on social media – yet, there at the moment, there is absence. Often the absence of support and surrounding can lesson our motivation and desire to keep going, to ensure the race.
One of the things that has kept me sane over these lockdown months has been cycling, and over the years, I have been blessed to have people to cycle with. Now, there is nothing better than getting out on the bike by myself and enjoying the open road; yet, with time, the mind soon starts to wander and the body tires, boredom kicks in, and I find myself starting to turn back towards home. Contra to that, I find that if I am out with a friend, or when covid allows, even more, there is greater energy to keep going: conversation keeps the mind distracted, and togetherness on the same goal keeps us moving forward. We are better together!
Chapter 11 of Hebrews is the wonderful testimony of the witness of all the saints, and as Chapter 12 begins, the writer uses that powerful word ‘therefore’ to hammer home his point. In this passage, what is said is a direct response for us to what has been declared in Chapter 11; that summary of faith in action. Thus, because of all who have gone before us – their witness and faithfulness we are called to endure what is ahead of us! The Hebrews writer is making the point that Christian is not alone in running this race, many have run the course before, and there are many running with them now – even if they are unaware of it and feel alone. We are better together because we are always together through faith in Christ – there is nothing that can separate us from the Body of Christ today and eternal, not even covid. Thus, we run, we endure, and we fix our eyes on what is ahead so that Christ is made known and we come to know more of him.
Wise In How We Run
Not only do we run, but we also are wise about how we run. No one signs up to do an Ultra Marathon without training or the right shoes, nor would they turn up to complete the race in a tracksuit and carrying 30KG of food in a rucksack. That would be foolish, and if we met someone we knew who was running a race in such a get-up, we would seek to help them get rid of all that they did not need. Why? Because it would hinder their running. Today, as we think about running this race that is life for Christ, the writer to the Hebrews calls us to stop and consider for a moment are carrying things that are actually hindering how we are living for Christ? The weight mentioned first in verse one is different to the sin mentioned just after, being anything that would weigh down their full participation with Christ – legalism, wrong understandings of discipleship, hurt, anger, works-based understanding of faith. We all carry things in this journey with Christ that we think are true, yet, are the lies of the enemy – things that shape how we run, how we see the course ahead, and how we see the purpose of our enduing. The writer’s advice here is simple, like the athlete who, before beginning a race, must take off every item of clothing that will hinder them, so too must the disciple show wisdom in what they carry in this journey of faith.
Wise in Where We Run
Secondly, the runner will show wisdom in where they run; we will run to avoid the dangers of sin – those things that not only weigh us down but entangle us when we give ourselves to them. Like a deer trapped in overgrowth, the disciple can find themselves ensnared in something that was only once a weight but became something far more dangerous with time and energy. Now their running is not slower but altogether stopped as they wrestled with the entanglement of sin. Sin is sin, and no matter if we might think we have a handle on it; – one day it will find us out, and we will find ourselves trapped and entangled, unable to run the course before us.
Today, let us be wise, let us take the time to consider our running and then set aside the things that we think are of God but are simply of our own strength. Let us be wise to deal with sin before it deals with us, and then let us get to run the race God has called us to run. How are we to know these things by remembering that we do not run alone. Thus, we know what weight looks like because we are in the word of God, allowing the Spirit of God to sharpen our discernment, and we have deep and real fellowship with other disciples who can point out things for us and with whom we can shine the light of Christ on the darkness of our sin. The race is one of progress, not perfection – but to be wise is to be honest to God and honest to one another and know that we do not run alone. Then, when we have done both of these things, we can get down to the business of faithfully running the race that God has called us to. Each of us has a unique assignment from God; it is not that we are alone but that we are placed in different contexts for a different purpose; while we all run together and towards the same goal, our courses will look different. Yet, in the power of the Spirit and for the Glory of God, we have laid aside all that might hinder us so that we can run with perseverance towards the goal. This is not a short sprint, nor is this a marathon – the call of Christian disciple is an Ultramarathon; it will be difficult and hard, but because we have already received our prize through faith, we fix our eyes on that prize (Christ Jesus) and run to make him known. This is the call of every disciple, to be faithful to what God has called them to so that the faithless can know the wonder of faith in Christ – that which sustains us always.
Fixing Our Eyes on What is Ahead (2)
Every journey has a reason or motivation: if we get in the car to go for a drive, our motivation tends to be our destination; if we enter into a race, our motivation tends to be finishing/winning. The journey of discipleship is no different! We run (start) from a purpose and towards our purpose. What does that mean? We are people of Grace, those who know that we come to God through no effort of our own but through the work of Christ on the cross; thus, we run from that starting point of purpose. Yet, equally, we are those who know that while we have received the benefits of our faithfully, there is yet more to receive! Hence, we run the course of life and navigate the ups and downs of ‘now’, knowing that come to the end of all things, we will come to know the fullness of the prize we have already received. Thus, we are people who start running from our purpose and then run towards it.
Additionally (if that is not consuming enough), we also run with the same purpose! As followers of Jesus, we have grasped that our life is not our own, and we live for something beyond ourselves – we live to worship God and bring Him glory so that others might come to see and know life with him. Thus, the true disciples run the race of life, the course that God has marked out for them with their eyes fixed on one thing – Jesus. Why? Because what we behold we become, what we look to in this race of life for motivation shapes our lives. The Christian then, as they run the course God has marked out for them, fix their eyes on one thing – Jesus Christ. He is both our goal and our example in life, we run to give him Glory, and we run because he was the obedient one. His obedience enabled us to partake in this race with the assurance of faith. We run this race with our eyes fixed on Jesus, who is the author and perfector of this faith – it was by his obedience is that we can run this course. Who for the joy that his obedience would bring wrought the worst of what the world could throw at him – the cross and death! Not only did he endure it, but he achieve victory over it; the image of Christ being seated at the right hand of the Father is an image of conclusion; he ran his race and finished it.
Jesus completed his work of redemption. Thus we can trust him and look to him as we run. Let us consider what our eyes are fixed on in this race of life, and let us make sure it’s Jesus. Let us run with him and to him, and as we run, seek to bring Glory to him so that others might come to know the wonder of him. He who endured the worst of the worlds shames so that we can enjoy the wonder of Gods presence.
“We all know people that this has happened to. There is no urgency. No vigilance. No focused listening or considering or fixing of their eyes on Jesus. And the result has not been a standing still, but a drifting away.” – John Piper
The Joy of Enduring (3)
“Endurance is a Key Indicator of Spiritual Fitness”
– Alistair Beggs
There comes the point in any race, sport or journey where will we stop and take stock of all that has been up until that point. We will think of all the training that might have gone in, those who have been supporting us, and perhaps how close we are to the end, and then we will pick ourselves up and keep going until we finish the face. Last night I went out for a run – I hate running – and in my head, I had said I would do 10KM; now, at about 2.5KM, I found myself saying, if you turn now, that will be 5KM, and that’s not bad, but I took a moment, steadied myself and then kept plodding until I finished the 10KM loop. The writer of the Hebrews invites us to ‘consider Him;’ this is an invitation to take account of all that Jesus was, is and went through for us and then run because of that. We consider Jesus not because he was the perfect runner, no, but because as he walked this earth, he faced all that we faced, every trial and temptation, and he kept his eyes fixed on the Glory and Joy of God – he is our example. He who endured the worst of opposition from sinners, yet, never lost his joy or faith in God. Jesus endured and served as our example. The point is simple, no one says that follow Jesus would be easy: the promises of the prosperity gospel; those words of blessing ahead if only we believe or seize; the double your blessing prayers – lies. Of course, God God desires to bless us, but he already has in Christ, and when we reach the end of this race and when God comes to redeem the world, all the trials and torments of life will fade into insignificance, as we know the joy and blessing of eternal union with Christ. Yet, that day is not this day; that time is not now – we all find ourselves facing different challenges, different hills on the course before us, and as we look at them, we can start to feel overwhelmed, weary, and worn out. We can start to wonder where God is and is this really of him, and we can start to weigh ourselves down with non-gospel things or tangle ourselves in sin. The Hebrews writer has one piece of advice for us – remember Jesus and what he endured. Then when we remember what he endured for he, we will find the strength through the working of the Holy Spirit in us to keep running the race set before us so that God is glorified and we can know the Glory of being with him.
“ Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory.”
– William Barclay
Conclusion: Let us Run Well
“A disciple knows God personally, and who learns from Jesus Christ, who most perfectly revealed God. One word stands out from all others as the key to knowing God, to having his peace and assurance in your heart; it is obedience.” ― Eric Liddell, The Disciplines of the Christian Life
Today, we are collectively tired, all our normal rhythms of rest and refreshment have been interrupted by the madness of Covid, and the longer it goes on, the more difficult it becomes to endure or find joy through. Yet, this is the season that God has us in collectively and individually. Thus, ours is the challenge and duty to consider the weights in this time that hinder our running and deal with them? Perhaps it’s a view of the online church, or a perspective as to ‘community’ should be done; perhaps we find ourselves spiritual hopping from one YouTube channel to another because we are tired of ours, yet it’s more a case of we think there is better elsewhere. There could be lots of things weighing us down during this season, but let us take a moment to take stock and deal with them, let us seek the Wisdom of the Holy Spirit and challenge ourselves through the Word and Community and then run the course set before us. Afterwards, we have dealt with the weight. Let us get out the clippers and cut through the sin that is entangling us in these moments so that we can get back to running well for Jesus. Sin can be many things, those ways of coping with the extra stress of these times, and the sly conversations we find ourselves enjoying because they remind us that there are those worse than us while we are in difficult times. Let us pray in the Spirit that God would bring our sin into the light and the strength to deal with it so we can for Him and towards Him.
Then let us fix our eyes on Jesus because what we behold is what we become, so as we run this race for Him and fix our eyes on him, the Spirit of God is at work in us to make us more like him. As we fix our eyes on him, it means we are keeping true to the course that God has for us, and as we run, we do so in memory of his example so that no matter the season we find ourselves in and facing, we remember his example; thus we will never grow weary or lose hope because we know that Jesus has already achieved our victory. Even in these difficult days of covid, we are those who might be wearied by the circumstance of life but will never lose hope because our hope is not of this world but of Christ. So today, let us consider him; run towards him; run like him and run in a way that shares our hope. Let us offer to the world by our living and speaking the thing that gives us life so that others can know the wonder of Christ and the hope of the Cross this Easter and in all the seasons of life still to come.
- The Reading from Johns Gospel today is out of order and will be considered more tomorrow ↩