Eyes on the Prize, Part 1

Hebrews 12: 1 - 4

In looking at this particular section that calls us to enduring faith, the pastor writer has given us the examples of it in chapter 11 and we jump into the beginning of chapter 12 and he says “therefore”. Therefore is the transition from what we have just looked at in those individuals of chapters 11. This morning and next week are parts 1 and 2 from these four verses and I’ve entitled it Eyes on the Prize. There is prize that is ahead for all of us. It’s the view of that prize that helps us to understand the truth of the perseverance of the saints. Which is enduring faith that leans on growth. From the moment you came into the family of God until you leave the earth, you are called to grow. In fact we are required by God to grow. As Peter puts it, to grow in grace. Perseverance, when you hear that word, and you hear the words to endure, we get a mental picture of plunging along and barely making it. Certainly, the individuals mentioned in chapter 11 went through a great deal of difficulty and hardship. But that is not the only aspect of perseverance of the saints. There are people who live in the world and endure difficulty and struggle. The perseverance of the saints is the strength of your faith which continues to compel you to the prize. The prize of course is Jesus. You are going to be with Jesus! That provides for you through your difficulties, through your trials of various kinds throughout life, a great deal of satisfaction because Jesus walks with you. 

Before we dip into the text, I want to give you the means of grace which comes to the church in manifold ways. These are the ways God administers his grace to us. He does that, God blesses us with his grace to sustain us and to empower our faith to endure throughout this life. I want to give you a series of them, and I am only going to pass through them, but you will readily identify them. They are the things that are building your life. They are instruments that God is utilizing his grace to build your life. It starts with corporate worship, Sunday morning. The meeting and gathering of God’s people. It’s here that we find, as we worship Christ, that we need each other. That has always been God’s makeup in every local assembly, that the “one anothers” should be practiced. It doesn’t matter of our walk in life, it doesn’t matter of our ethnic position, it doesn’t matter of our intellectual position, or financial position. We are here together, built together by the grace of God to worship him and to see each other as a family. As families go through struggles, our own physical family, so the church goes through them. God administers his grace through me assembling myself with you. He does that for you as well. God gives it and blesses and sustains it and empowers it through his means of grace. By baptism, by the sharing and taking of the table. By the bible itself, as you hear it now, as you read it own your own, as your study it on your own, as you memorize it and think about it. As you think about it as how it should pertain and function in your life. God’s means of grace comes to you as you pray the words of God, and that should be the emphasis of our prayers as you pray truth. He gives his grace to you, to give, give of your material things, to testify of Jesus to others of the gospel and what Jesus has done in and through your life. Another means of grace is marriage. It causes an individual to think of others. While some do have the gift of singleness, which God’s administers his grace to you in that way, in marital relationships there are a lot of different ways where we see the means of grace administered to us. Your good works, in a day by day way, with just giving a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name, meaning Jesus is the motive for your desire to do goodness, that is the means of grace. 

Coupled with this is service to this particular body, which is really what God designs the church for. Another means of grace is to serve. I am to serve in the body of believers that God makes me a part of. Corporate worship, baptism, the Lord’s supper, prayer, the word, testifying, marriage, good works, service, these are all together are what build a Christian life. We function in these means of grace with this, the eye on the prize, the prize that is ahead, so we don’t see ourselves practicing some of this, we identify with all of it. We are engaged in all of it. Here comes the motive for all of this, which you know you can measure this by if you assimilate this well, first and foremost is a love for Jesus, he is your focus and your motive. But it is just that, secondarily, it is a love for the people that I am around, especially the church. Eye on the prize is not that phrase you heard, “Just let go and let God.” Friends, that is not grace. Grace is free, but grace produces something. Grace produces endurance. Grace produces perseverance, so that when you are eyeing the prize, you will do as the text tells us, we will run our race, through those means of grace I just mentioned. 

This morning I just want to give you a few things. We are going to look at how the pastor writer gives them an encouragement, he tells them about the encumbrances, then he sets an example, okay? We will finish this second aspect of this next week before we go into our summer season together of a different series. Let’s notice the text, which in my mind is often a misused text. He sets before them, first of all, an encouragement. He is giving them a list of people we have looked at. It’s kind of like this, if you will think about it this way, it is like a hall of fame. We read chapter 11 and we think about the heroes of faith, and then walking through that, I listed these things. You see someone, “for the sake of Jesus,” “for the love of YHWH,” one who was martyred by his own brother, one who was ridiculed for being stupid, one who opposed Pharaoh, which was unimaginable, one who forsook the pleasures of the world and placed in power, those who resisted opportunities for fame and power. There were the people of God passing through the Red Sea, shouting down the walls of Jericho, conquered kingdoms, the mouths of lions shut, quenched by the power of fire, some received back their dead by power of resurrection, tortured, mobbed, scoured, in prison, sawn in half. Some were dressed in animal skins for warmth, killed an animal and cut out its insides and used it for warmth because they were destitute and cold. Afflicted, mistreated, homeless. It is a hall of faith. Some people look at this text, perhaps you have looked at this, there are people in Heaven, that are up there looking down on us. I don’t think that whatsoever is the text. If you were to think that, how good would Heaven be that we can look down and see the misery that people are in this life? Perhaps your own family members that reject Jesus. I think that view belittles our Savior, who I think we are going to be in awe of, because he is reigning there now. The cloud of witnesses, I kind of look at this, for a lack of a more appropriate example, if you have ever gone to Cooperstown, and you have visited the Hall of Fame and you want through the three stories that are there and you hear the stories of these individuals, and in many cases, their struggle and of course you see their accomplishment and successes. The cloud of witnesses for us, are to motivate us and to instruct us in a spiritual way as we take the time to examine their lives. That is why we have done that, we walked through them with sermons and spent a great deal of time there, so that as you run your race and I run my race, and we eye the prize of that race, we are motivated. Their human circumstances are applicable to our human circumstances. It asks us this question, how do I apply the gospel to my life? Past the meeting time, right now, how do I leave this place and apply the gospel to my life? So if you think these saints are watching us, standing in a gallery of Heaven, like a sports arena from the perspective of watching us perform, I think they are enthralled with Jesus. 

Now, as we look at this, I want to explain this. Sometimes the witnesses are looked at like the heroes, but I want you to understand this, from chapter 11, the witnesses, were the witnesses to God, not witnesses to us. They lived their lives and they had enduring faith. They were persevering through their faith in Jesus. Their witness is a witness to God, not to us. They become to us, in that regard, our examples not our onlookers viewing our lives now. Their faith endured, they were following Jesus. The pastor writer consistently write that they were running after the promise. As we looked at a few weeks ago, they did not receive it, as Jesus had not yet come. Their encouragement of their lives that is an encouragement to us, they bore witness to God, as he requires of me and of you. He certainly does that electively of us, to bear witness to God. That should be our encouragement. In order for that to take place, our encumbrances should be set aside. So as we continue to view the prize, we run our race, with endurance, that is set before us setting aside our encumbrances. First and foremost is to put away our sin. This is part of our struggle. The phrase there, put away our sin, literally means to lay aside. It is giving a language of understanding, that is how olympians competed in those days, they stripped themselves naked so they could run faster. There was to be no hindrance. They were to throw off everything, so they could run their best. The point he is trying to make to us is that we need to remove some sin that is besetting sin, it doesn’t have to be a single sin it can be a set of sins, that is keeping us from eyeing the prize well so we would run the race with endurance and perseverance. Allowing the means of grace to give us strength. Removing those things that keep up from following Jesus. 

Let’s start with this, our sin. I want you to think about your sin for a moment, that is keeping you from eyeing the prize and running the race. That is keeping you from the gospel. They are sometimes called besetting sins. There are sins for you that you are likely to commit. It is sin that is appealing to you. The bottom line is, you know it and there is no use trying to hide it because we all have it. What I mean by that, you have to deal with it. I have to deal with my besetting sins. Besetting sins can be sensuality, they can be jealousy, it can be lying, and so on and so on. It is something in your life that tempts you more than other things. There are other sins that are easier to put off, but these particular sins or particular sin tempt you more. So that in some areas, you are stronger, but in other areas you are weaker. Either way everyone in here who claims Christ, and for that matter every believer across the globe, has them. They can be, criticism, slothfulness, hatred, lust, ingratitude, pride, greed, anger. The religious side of you wants you to think of yourself as better than the person next to you and to not deal with your own sin, which produces legalism. God is calling you to look for the prize, which is Jesus, and to do a self examination, first and foremost, to set aside hindrances, and to not really sin against the very first thing, worship of God’s people when we gather together. We accept one another and we love one another and we honor one another, and all of those glorious principles that are a part of corporate worship. Whatever your sins are, he is saying to strip them,  to battle them, to mortify them, which means to kill. You know what they are because spirit of God is already identifying them to you. The High Priest is alive! He is alive. Even in preaching this, while I am moving through the words, he is re-identifying them to me. They are there to let us know, we need him. We need him to help us set aside our sin. 

Along with this he says, the weight. There are weights for all of us, that keep us and hinder us from following Jesus. The question is, what is the hinderance to you? It may not be a weight to others. Listen to me, because Christianity does not live in a box. We are called upon by God to constantly apply the gospel to my life, first and foremost. Then from my life, by the grace of God, to become a sweet fragrance of God to the people of the church and to those who don’t know Jesus. That is the beginning. A weight in this regard friends, can be something good, and yet it is keeping you weighed down. It could be a friendship, it could be an association, it could be an event, it could be a place, it could be a habit, it could be a pleasure, it could be an entertainment, it could be something that is honorable. It is not necessarily, in of itself sin, but in your life it is something that is dragging you down, that lures you away from following Jesus and applying the gospel in your life in every phase. It keeps you from following Jesus, it keeps you from trusting Jesus, it keeps you from serving Jesus. To help us understand that, because again it was an olympic comparison. The images he gives there are extreme, and they are intended to be that way. To let us know that Jesus is to be the focus of how we live and why we live. He is the one, let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, look to Jesus, so that we can strip off the encumbrances. The only time you will graduate is in the resurrection when you go to be with Jesus. 

Then he sets before us, the greatest of standards, the greatest of examples. The pastor writer gives us Jesus. We are talking about a persevering and enduring faith, stay with this, because this is rich. Let me tell you something, when you get a hold of this, this is going to give you comfort, this is going to let you do this spiritually. I feel rest in this, though there is a lot of pressure on me. He is going to give us Jesus who could be for us, this impossible standard. Then Jesus is just going to jump right in there and let you know, “I am here with you.” Because he is the founder and perfecter of our faith. So let’s start with looking to Jesus as our example. Let’s start with a negative. He is saying this, “Don’t get preoccupied with your own self.” People get overwhelmed. Listen to me for just a minute, it is okay to have pain when loved ones die who are Christians, it is inappropriate to quit life. It is inappropriate to deny the means of grace. That is not the Christian view. The world suffers without hope, but we have hope! Now this doesn’t mean we don’t have pain and sorrow. The closest to me in my life that I have that have passed on, are my parents. But I don’t bemoan that they are gone, yes it bums me out because I can’t go golfing with him and tell him that he is a hack but he is with Jesus reigning. So don’t get preoccupied with yourself because it creates within us, this Eeyore Christianity, this “Woe is me.” That is not the picture of those in chapter 11! Abel got killed by his own brother, by his own blood brother, over YHWH. So don’t get paralyzed by your own analysis of your life, don’t get preoccupied with yourself. The means of grace, with all those individuals as examples, they are to tear us away from the preoccupation of our own selves. That is what they are there for! Don’t become preoccupied with what others think of you, or what others are doing. I am not talking about not bearing a concern for others, as we prayed this morning for our dear brother Ozzy. I am talking about in this regard, looking to Jesus. Because Jesus was so selfless. As to not have such an egotistical view of ourselves, to even live our christianity as a man pleasure with arrogance looking to impress, “See what I do.” If we are being honest, I think we are all honest, we all struggle a little bit with that. People are involved in ministry and they are doing things the way we want them to do. We think everybody else is a bad Christian. He says, “Look to Jesus.” You know what that means? Jesus was alone. He died alone! That is the kind of stick-to-it-ness, that is the kind of kindness and focus that is being generated here so that we will have an enduring faith. 

Your life, my life, is lived to the audience of one, which is Christ. We look to Jesus, and as Pastor Alex appropriately said earlier, he is calling upon that High Priestly card for us here. That is what he is really referencing! Jesus is our help. Jesus in fact is the one who is leading us. Jesus resides in us. Because he has conquered sin in a final way, we can truly take off our sin that we battle with, we can run this race, because he is going to initiate our battle cry. He is going to aid us in our battle with sin. In fact, Jesus is the one that gives you the desire to battle your sin. He says here, and again I think this area is often misused, Jesus is the founder and perfecter of our faith. Now let me just say this real quick, the faith in the bible is sometimes used as a body of truth, and sometimes it is used to refer to a personal trust in Christ. I think both fit well here, but in particular, I think he is talking about your personal faith. That is, Jesus is the author of my faith, he is the perfecter of my faith. Jesus is the founder of my faith, he is the one who authored it. He is the one who blazed the way, the access to God. He has pioneered it. It is Jesus who has bestowed to me faith as a gift. Ephesians 2:8-10. What the pastor writer is saying is this, so that we don’t get so egotistical and isolated to think we are doing this alone, or have ever done this alone, we need to take notice that Jesus is with us, every breath. Not only is he just with us, he is not just a bystander. Jesus himself who is giving you strength, Jesus himself who is giving all things that are excellent. He is the one who is giving you victory! The ability to cast off your sin. Look, my friend, to Jesus. Look to him. Fix yourself on him, and not your problems. As you magnify Christ in this way, no matter the turmoil and duress you find yourself in, you will rejoice. You will feel a deep satisfaction! You won’t magnify your sin to your own despair, that is not the gospel. God wants us to view this sin, that is apart of us and the hindrances, but he wants us to have a right view because Jesus is not only in the storm, sometimes the storm has come explicitly by his hand to teach us. He wants us to run a race! How do I do that? Let me do something here, this helps me a lot, notice this, he says, look to Jesus, not to Christ. He doesn’t use another term, you know the son of God, he says look to Jesus. It is personal! He gives the Christ his human name, Jesus. We are to focus on Jesus, because Jesus lived, as a human. So that he knows the strain you are under. Jesus knows your difficulty. He knows your suffering. Jesus knows the sin that you are battling, that you fall prey to from time to time. But listen friends, he endured all that and never sinned. He is letting you know he has won. He has won the victory over your battle! In that regard, not only is Jesus the founder of your faith, Jesus is the perfecter of your faith. Jesus makes perfect our faith. You know why? Your faith is stained by your own sin. Your best day, doing your most spiritual activity, is tainted by your own sin. The truth is, from time to time our own faith can be weak. Did you wake up this past week not feeling much like a Christian? Life does that to us. You know what is indicative of American Christianity, that I think is probably different from any other culture in the history of the world, we run to isolation. We first and foremost leave the means of grace. Because we live in a self absorbed society. Jesus is the perfecter of my faith! I don’t know about you, but that gives me this wild, this crazy, unbelievable rush of joy! Because the faith he has given me is going to take me to the end, and it is not me because I am tough. No, he is going to make my faith perfect! Because he is perfect. Jesus is at the beginning of your faith in him, and Jesus is at the end of your faith with him. Take hope! Your faith is going to be made perfect. And it is not because of what you have done. It is everything because of what he has done! In Jesus’ entire earthly life, he trusted God. He perfected living by faith. He lived in total dependence of his father. The son’s faith in his father, allowed him to endure desertion, mocking, beating, rejection, suffering, the cross. Let me ask you this, as I wrap this up, you may not have come in here this way, but do you sense a need to run the race? Or are you just spectating? Living your christian life through someone else?  Perhaps even in a judgemental way. Run the race. How Kevin? Fix yourself on Jesus! Know this, he has lived the life that you are living, and how much more in the sense that Jesus never fell to temptation. Satan tried everything he could to cause him to sin. Can you imagine? We could take all of our struggles and temptations and combine them together and it would pale in comparison to the types of things that Jesus endured as a human. As a human, yet without sin. Jesus has won my war! He has given me the gift of faith, and he is going to perfect that. He is going to make it perfect! Apart from Jesus, you can do nothing. Apply the means of grace for your own endurance. Listen, you can do that in the sort of self-struggle way. You want to make that fresh? Be awestruck by Jesus. Be awestruck by him. Be satisfied by him. I want you to think about difficult spots in your life, and be awestruck with being satisfied with Jesus. That is what the pastor writer is talking about. If you fail to do that, you are just going to keep spinning your wheels as a Christian. Why am I constantly frustrated? Because without faith it is impossible to please him. Hebrews 11:6. You know why God designs this, he wants us to know life can’t be lived independent from him. He wants you completely and entirely dependent on Jesus. Become okay with that! That doesn’t mean, “Let go and let God,” that means we are winning! So have a refreshing urge to live life because he is the prize. Jesus is the prize! Not the streets of gold. Don’t get me wrong, it is okay that they are there too, but it is Jesus. Jesus is the prize!