We just finished our Sunday afternoon series: Cherishing the Church, which encouraged our commitment to one another, our unity as a Church and our devotion to Jesus Christ.
Our groups begin this afternoon and I hope and pray that all of us have chosen to participate in this Fall’s campaign as we finish our six year series of God’s Plan for His People. One of those group meetings will be here at 5:00 pm each Sunday, so if you did not sign up to be in a home group, please come back tonight for your group right here at 5:00.
Can you believe it will be fall in two weeks? This year is flying by! Life seems more and more to me like a race we are running! Lord willing, we will have four more “back to basics” lessons before October brings us to our final quarter’s series. Now for today’s message:
Let’s look again at Hebrews 12:1-3.
These words of God are turning point words. They speak of an encouraging cloud of witnesses who cheer us on toward the goal of our faith in Christ. These witnesses surround us. They are not just a handful on the sidelines, but a great crowd. Not only are they witnesses of our efforts, they are those who in the past have given their lives to this same glorious effort that we are today a part of. They are the veterans of the war, the celebrated faithful of the past. They are our mentors, and now our encouragers, filling us with assurance that our labors in the Lord are not in vain, far from it! Our race is toward the glory of an eternal inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven as we run through this temporal earthly time, where we face the struggle of testing and trial. Especially for us here in our prosperous and comfortable times we face the test of the distractions of pleasures and worldly achievements.
These words: ”Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” assumes that we are the objects of their view. What are we doing? What are these witnesses witnessing in us? This chapter is all about staying the course and not giving up, not giving in to the struggles against our faith in Christ. It’s about following the examples of those faithful witnesses in Hebrews chapter 11. So, now in Hebrews 12, the author gives us admonishments that we must take to heart and instructions we must obey in order to fulfill our calling and finish our race. Every Christian will face the struggle to stay in the race. Some more than others. We are all tempted and face discouragement, distraction, troublesome doubts, and cares and worries of this life. Some face concerns and feelings that we are missing out by not partaking of the pleasures of sin. These fleshly opportunities that so constantly confront us and call our attention away from following Jesus Christ. Then, there’s also the obstacle course of false religions, and so called Christian ministries that are worldly to the core, having a form of godliness, but denying it’s power. On the opposite religious side of that are the legalistic fault finders who make it their goal to criticize and sit in judgment on anyone who disagree with them, causing divisions over opinions that destroy the unity of the Spirit and strip away all semblance of grace and mercy which lie at the very heart of Christ’s work.
What are we to do with these temptations? Hebrews states it this way: Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles us. This word translated “entangles” NIV is translated “besetting” in the KJV. Your Bible may have other words to translate it. The Greek word is “euperistatos,” which carries the idea of surrounded as a distraction or competition. Interesting. We are surrounded by a great cloud of faithful witnesses who cheer us on and encourage us in our faith, but we are also surrounded by temptations that would discourage or distract us from our faith. So here’s our first assignment: we must throw off everything that hinders and rid ourselves of the surrounding distractions that compete with our commitment to following Christ.
A few years ago, I was helping Jenny with a series of Ladies Day lessons she was preparing to share in the Central Church of Christ in McMinnville. The lessons were entitled, “At Home with God.” Jenny had picked several passages from Deuteronomy as her texts. Deuteronomy has some powerful teachings about faithfulness and how to stay close to God in an idolatrous world. The land of Canaan was rich and lush with fruitfulness. It was inhabited with sinful, immoral people who worshipped idols in horrible and gross immoral ways. God was punishing those nations as He sent Israel in to drive them out and destroy them. God knew that if they tried to live among those nations, they would become like them, and turn away from Him and follow after their gods and participate in their sinful practices. So God warned them through Moses about throwing off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. They were commanded to clean out all that causes sin and idolatry. They were His chosen people. They were to be a holy nation. They were His royal priesthood. They were the people belonging to God.
But what happened? Did they throw off all that hindered and the sin that so easily entangles? Did they cleanse the land as God told them to? Well… They started the race. They were running and doing it at first. There was even a generation or two that obeyed God and took to heart His warnings and instructions. But, as the dust settled from the conquest, and the Canaanites who remained became friends and neighbors with the Israelites, and intermarriages between Israel and the Canaanites took place, guess who converted whom?
Many in Israel slowed down from the race, and eventually quit running with God altogether. It was not without consequence. God will not put up with a house filled with competitors. God will not share His glory with another god. Jesus Christ, is either the object of our faith, the focus of our hearts and the leader of our lives, or He is not. Jesus does not share His Lordship with other lords. He gave His life to save His Church, to purify her and cleanse her to be without spot or blemish, washing her with water and the word. The bride of Christ runs the race He has laid out for her. She keeps her heart clean. She endures the hardships of temptation and persecution and seeks Jesus Christ through it all. Keeping her eyes on Jesus, She runs with perseverance and considers her Lord’s sacrifice and example as the way of life for herself.
How are we doing? In light of these words, are we throwing off everything that hinders our relationship with Jesus Christ? Are we ridding ourselves of the entanglements of sin that surround us? Are we running the course Jesus has set before us? Are we keeping our eyes on Him, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God?
Go through your house, your car, your office, your checkbook, your credit card receipts, and ask yourself: Is this helpful to my relationship with Christ? Is this neutral? Is it harmful?
If it’s helpful, keep it. If it’s neutral, hold it loosely. If it’s harmful, tear it from your life and throw it away.
Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it from you. It is better to lose one part of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. Just to make sure we got His point, Jesus went on: “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut if off and throw it from you, it is better to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
Application? If your TV causes you to sin, bash it with a baseball bat and throw it in the dumpster. It is better to lose one appliance… Or, if your cell phone causes you to sin, throw it on the ground and stomp on it. It’s better to lose one electronic device…
The truth is, if we don’t love the Lord more than our sins, we will never make the sacrifices; we’ll never lay aside all that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles us. So, the question is: Which do you love more, Jesus or your sin?
Jesus loved you so much, He emptied Himself and came here, born as a servant, and here He gave up everything, including His life, His body, His blood. He loves you more. But if you reject Him, He will honor your choice and cut you off and throw from Himself.
One day we will all face Jesus Christ as He sits on the throne in Judgment. On that day, everyone that has run the race in faithfulness will find welcome arms and eternal joy in everlasting life. But all who did not will be cut off and thrown away.
Jesus said, “Whoever hears these words of mine and puts them into practice will be like a man who built his house upon the rock. The rains came, the streams rose and the winds blew and beat against that house, but it stood firm, because it was founded on the rock. But whoever hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rains came, the streams rose, the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
By God’s grace, may this church be built upon the rock of Jesus Christ, His life, death, burial and resurrection, His words of life to us.