Some of you no doubt have heard about George Tiller. You may better know him as Tiller the Killer. Up until recently he was America’s most notorious abortionist. That is not true of him anymore though. This past year Tiller himself was executed. He was gunned down in cold blood on Sunday morning at his church.
Neither do we delight in the fact that one of the most vile men of our time has been brought down in such a way. But it is interesting to note where this shooting took place. It was in his church.
If you are like me you sometimes find it difficult to say good bye to your favorite piece of clothing. I recently had to part with a tee shirt. It was a shirt from my daughter’s soccer league. Since my girls have played a lot of soccer, I have a thousand of these shirts. But this one was special.
That this is the theme of our passage is not difficult to detect. The word “discipline” is used 9 times in the six or seven verses that we read.
In verse 6 it says that he “chastises the one he receives.” At least that’s what it says in my version.
Spring has sprung. The grass has become green, the trees are sprouting leaves, and people are out exercising in their underwear.
In my neighborhood I see a lot of runners because I’m not too far from the college or high school. And it seems that there are always a lot of people streaking down my street.
I know that a lot of this is because our society doesn't have an intelligent understanding of modesty. With all the sexual confusion that’s going on in our culture people don’t really understand that running in what amounts to the nude is not really all that appropriate.
I understand what they are thinking though. They are athletes. The want to improve and cut off as much time from their run as possible. They want their workout to be as good as it can be. So they are willing to toss lay aside the shirt and really any other loose hanging clothing that might hinder their performance.
“Undie running” (as I call it) isn’t something that’s new though. Like most fashion faux pas it’s just making a comeback. Running in the nude was something that was quite common in the Roman empire. Back then their competitions had the same mentality that they do today: Let’s get rid of as much as possible so that we don’t have anything that keeps us from finishing strong.
Even though Christians didn’t typically participate in those sports, for reason of the immodesty of the event, Christians certainly knew the practice. It was common knowledge that people ran this way.
Because everyone was familiar with this tactic the author of the book of Hebrews made a point of using the imagery. In this passage he compares Christianity to a race. And in the first verse he says that we need to be like those runners and “lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely.”
The author of course isn’t talking about stripping off our clothes. He’s talking about anything that might obstruct our faith and keep us from persevering to the end. Whatever might be an impediment to our finishing the race of faith needs to be jettisoned.
Of course, when it comes to our faith there can be a lot of things that get in our way and make us want to quit. It could be your vanity. It might be your pride. For some people it is wealth or maybe your desire to have people respect you. All these things can make us want to quit on Christ.
Probably, if we are keeping things in context, the sin that so easily entangles is most likely the sin of unbelief. That’s what these Hebrews are dealing with, isn’t it? They’re scared. They’re being persecuted and they’re starting to hedge their bets. It’s this unbelief that arises out of fear or the doubts that have really begun to entangle them. And they’re starting to question whether they can finish this race.
But the author writes this to tell us that these doubts and fears need to be chucked. We shouldn’t give up. Just like a professional athlete we need to battle through all the way to the finish line.
And in this passage he gives us every motivation to throttle through the finish line. Sometimes runners need a little extra motivation to keep going. And so, like a good coach the author is seeking to provide us with the inspiration we need to persevere. He rallies our faith by reminding us that we have every encrouagement that we need to perservere in the race of faith.
You might even say that he changes the question. We might be asking, “How can I win this race?” But he changes it to “How can you not win this race?”
How can you not win the race given your history?
I. The encouragement of our history 
Our passage begins by placing us in a stadium. It says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.”
The author wants the full weight of all the figures from redemptive history to rest upon our hearts. He wants us to really consider the encouragement that we should gain from their testimonies.
You know, when an athlete enters into an arena he is surrounded by the throngs of cheering fans. And these fans become a means of encouragement to the athlete. That’s why football players often stand on the sidelines and try to whip up the crowds. They get high off that and it stimulates them to greater performance.
But of course, our encouragement doesn’t come from their whooping and hollering. Athletes get their boost from all the crowd’s hoopla. That’s not what is going on here. It’s not like Gideon is waving his terrible towel or that Sampson is waving a big foam #1 finger for you. Your encouragement comes from who these people were and what they pointed to.
You will notice that it says “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” The word witness is the word martereo, from whence we get the word “martyr.” But what is a martyr? It’s a person who testifies to another. And that’s where our encouragement comes from. These people were witnesses. They point to the greatness of God and His grace.
We call chapter 11 “the Hall of Faith.” And we equate it with history’s greatest athletes who have been inducted into the “Hall of Fame.” But if you think about it, Hebrews 11 is a record of a bunch of flunkies. David was a sinner. Gideon was a nobody and self proclaimed inept leader. Moses openly admitted that he wasn’t much of a leader or speaker. Rahab, she was a prostitute! Not exactly a role model by any means.
When you look at our history and the faith these people showed, you should remember that—ultimately—these people are pointing away from themselves. They are pointing to God and how he was with them and sustained them. These people are hallmarks of faith, not because they were ideal candidates or MVP superpowers; they were weak and sinful—just like you and me. But they had a God who was greater than them and greater than their situation.
That’s the focus of our history. And our history is here to remind us that we have the same God. We should be encouraged to persevere because we have a God who is mighty to save and abounding in grace. He’s one who helps poor weak runners like us.
And I think that really leads well into the next thing that he says. After mentioning our history the author zero’s in on God’s sovereignty.
II. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty [2a]
Look at verse 2. It says, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”
Now, as he wrote this, he could have said, “Looking unto Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross.” But he didn’t do that. He included a little modifier to tell us exactly who it is we are to keep our eyes on. We are to keep our eyes on the one who is sovereign over our salvation. He is the “founder and perfecter of our faith.”
A founder is one who starts something. If you found a business, you are the one who starts that business. A perfecter is one who brings it to completion. God is sovereign in our salvation because he is the one who beings our faith and the one who brings it to completion.
What I’m saying is that the author of the book of Hebrews is a Calvinist. What he says here has to do with two of the great doctrines of predestination: irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints.
Irresistible grace is the doctrine that God initiates our salvation. He is the founder of our faith because he is the one who first produces faith in us.
We are not able to demonstrate faith on our own. We cannot come to Jesus by our own power. The Bible describes us as dead in sin. It says that our hearts are desperately wicked and beyond cure. It says that the intentions of our thoughts are only evil all the time. There’s no one who does good; no one seeks for God.
How is it that we can then believe in God if we are so dead set against him? There’s only one way; it is if God himself intervenes. He must first change our hearts. He must make us believe.
But not only does he found our faith, he also completes it. That’s the doctrine of perseverance. Just think about it: If we were not able to initiate our salvation, however could we sustain it? If our lives are marked by sin and rebellion, how ever could we maintain our faith in Christ? There’s no way.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “I am more confident of God’s hold on me than my hold on God.” That’s exactly right. If salvation was dependent on our ability to keep the faith, then we’d fall away in no time flat.
But the Bible says that the Lord perfects (or completes) our faith. He demonstrates his sovereignty in our salvation by sustaining our faith and upholding it all the way to the very end.
Once you understand this, you can understand why this is mentioned here. What an encouragement it is to know that it is not up to us to win! It’s not our power that is in view. All the power we need to persevere is found in the sovereign grace of God.
Did you see the video that went viral this past week from the University of Kansas? Each spring the U of K has an alumni football game. This year 89 year old Bryan Sperry was given the opportunity to take the pigskin the distance. And his face showed nothing but exhileration as he followed his blockers to the endzone. But of course, he could not have done it on his own. After all, he is 89 years old. The coach called in the play to give the ball to Sperry, and the defense was directed to let him pass.
This is essentially what the Lord has done for us, our sovereign has guaranteed that we shall cross the end line and has put down any foes that would seek to keep us from doing so.
Again, the question is “How can I win?” But it’s “How can we not win the race of faith?” If we learn anything from our history and from God’s sovereignty, it is that this race is in the bag.
That will become even clearer when we remember Christ’s victory.
III. We can win because of Christ’s victory [2b-3]
The main chunk of our passage focuses on Jesus and his victory over sin and death. In verse 2 it says that he “endured the cross, despising its shame.” And then in verse 3 it says “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
But notice what it says in the middle of all that. It says that Christ is “seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” So sandwiched right in the middle of these two verses that talk about the painful and shameful death he experience, we have the reminder that Jesus was victorious over it all. Jesus conquered sin and death. He rose from the grave and now is seated at the highest place of honor.
You know, every athlete has a hero. They have a champion that they mimic or try to be like. In order to be the best they set before themselves another who acts as their standard and inspiration. Michael Jordan grew up aspiring to be like the basketball great Jim Thompson. Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky grew up watching Gordie Howe out in the rink.
Even today you see kids out playing, they are re-enacting the moves of their favorite athletes. Their champions are always before them and they are aspiring to be like them.
That’s what is basically noted right here. We are to be focused on our champion. We are to “run the race with endurance.” But this race is to be patterned after Jesus, the one who endured the cross and endured the hostility of sinners. Our race is to be focused on the one who has conquered all the trails and suffering that life threw at him and has taken the highest ranking position in the universe.
Let’s not overlook how practical he gets here either. He says that the exalted Christ is to be that which our hearts and minds are fixed upon. We are to be “looking unto Jesus.” The work “look” is an interesting word. It means to look away from one thing and focus that attention fixedly upon another.
I’m not much of a runner, but I’ve heard that races have been won and lost by simple glances off to the side or because the runner has gotten distracted. Runners, from what I understand, are to keep their eyes fixed on the finish line. If they turn their heads to glance back or look at the crowd, which might very well cost them their victory.
He’s saying that they key to running a good race is to make sure you keep your eyes on Jesus. Don’t get distracted by the things of this world or by your livelihood. Keep your focus on Jesus.
The same may be said for the word “consider” in verse 3. This word means to study attentively or maybe even “analyze.” The idea is not that you are to simply think about Jesus every now and again, but rather your mind is to be absorbed with thoughts of him.
This is something that is quite helpful. If you ever struggle with doubt—or if you ever begin to feel yourself slipping, the thing you need to do is focus on Christ and the victory that he has achieved.
Maybe you’re one whose mind sometimes gets to thinking and you wonder about all these religions in the world. And you think, “How do we know if Christianity is the right one?” Or maybe one of you young people has an opportunity to go to college. And when you get there you are faced with a professor who is an atheist and adamantly opposed to Christianity. Perhaps you start hearing some arguments and, you don’t know for sure, but they sound kind of convincing. What should you do?
Well you should come back to this: Christ endured the cross for your sin and now is at the right hand of God. That’s where you get recalibrated, that you have a Savior; that you have a God who would give his life to redeem you from sin and death.
And if you are really struggling, perhaps maybe your mind is in such a swirl that you can’t concentrate, that’s when you should avail yourself more earnestly to the Communion table. God has given you a specific way to look unto Jesus. You can literally fix your eyes upon these elements and you can study attentively the depth of his love, the pain of his sacrifice, the certainty of his grace, the reality of his promise, and the hope of his kingdom.
That’s the way you guarantee a victory in your race of faith. It’s by focusing on the encouragement that comes by the victory Christ has already achieved.
But there is one more source of encouragement. We’ve already seen that there is no possible way we can lose. We’ve got the encouragement that comes through our history, God’s sovereignty, we have the encouragement that comes through Christ’s victory, and verse 4 tells us that we have the encouragement of our security.
IV. We can win because of our relative security 
It says, “In your struggle against sin (i.e. those who sin against God by trying to keep you from finishing strong) you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”
What’s he saying here? He’s saying that things are not really all that bad. They might seem bad. You might feel like you are really being pressured for your faith, but—reality check—it’s not that bad. You’ve not lost limb or life yet. There’s been no blood shed. You are still alive and well.
There’s been in the news lately the lady, I think she was a baker—she didn’t bake a cake for the homosexuals who wanted to get married. Now she’s being fined over a hundred thousand dollars. She’s been persecuted. She’s gone through a lot. She could lose everything she’s worked for, and perhaps a bit more. She’s got it bad. But let’s face it: she hasn’t shed any blood. Her life has not been threatened—at least not to that extent.
The author is trying to wake his audience up to the fact that, sure things might not be cozy for them—they might be experiencing a little bit of discomfort, but their persecution hasn’t been as bad as they might think.
That’s something we need to keep in mind too. We’ve experienced nothing like what the saints of old have. As far as I can tell, none of us here have been sawn in two. No one, so far as I know, was forced to wear sheepskin or goatskin.
So what if we have to pay some fines? It certainly isn’t comparable to the misery that Christ himself experienced.
That’s what really makes this a fitting end to this passage. He’s making you remember that Jesus bore the greatest pains because he endured the wrath of God.
He has secured for us eternal life by enduring the greatest hostility there ever could be. And even if men would tear us apart, there is nothing in this world that could compared to that.
How can we win the race of faith? We have a great deal of security. But most of all, because of what Christ did for us, we have eternal security.
And because of that there’s really no real reason to give up.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.