Old Testament, Hebrews 12:1-?
February 12, 2017
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Being a runner for many years, I’ve always loved that description of the Christian life. I don’t know if Paul was ever a runner, but he seemed to understand the metaphor very well.
After our Recommitment Sunday, earlier in the New Year, we began to think about “Moving Forward” in our faith. And I hope you’ve taken those two things to heart. I hope the “Year of Our Lord 2017” has truly been for you a “Year of Our Lord” …so far!
When I started thinking about “Moving Forward,” I ran into verse after verse after verse about that very thing! If you remember I gave you a lot of quotes that day. (If you like, you can re-read my sermon by that name on our website.) It seems that “moving forward” – “growing in our faith” – was a very important thing to the New Testament writers.
Well, this week, I was thinking of this idea of “Looking to Jesus.” And it was the same thing. I ran into verse after verse after verse that said that, as we live our Christian lives, as we “run the race” – difficult as that is sometimes – as we “move forward” in our faith, we can “look to Jesus” for our strength and encouragement. As we seek to “be like Jesus,” we can “look to Jesus,” as Paul tells us here in Hebrews.
There were lots of verses like that. And the first verse I want you to think about has to do with Jesus himself. It was about the “practice” Jesus had of being by himself, and being in communion with God. That’s where he drew his strength. In Luke 5, we read “The more the report went out about him, the more the great multitudes gathered to hear him, and to be healed by him. But(!) he withdrew to the wilderness to pray.” (Luke 5:15-16) In the New International Version, that last phrase is translated, “But he often went to lonely places to pray.” The form of the Greek verb used here is one that denotes a habitual activity. “He often went to a lonely place…” “It was his practice to go to a lonely place and pray!” (I remember that from my Greek class ‘hmmm’ years ago!)
And there are other verses throughout the Gospels that express that very thing. Jesus needed, and regularly sought, the fellowship and strength of God the Father! He often went apart from the others and sought that strength. Why should we think it’s any different for us? Why should we think we can conduct our faith any differently? But do we do that? Is that our practice? And if it is not, do we ever wonder why we feel so weak in our faith, so low on spiritual energy, and so far from God?
You know, it’s an easy thing to “do religion.” It’s quite another thing to be led by God! It’s quite another thing to “look to Jesus.” It’s one thing to “believe in” Jesus. It’s quite another thing to “be like him” as we said last week, or to “look to him” for our guide and strength, as we’re saying today. I want you to think about that!
Here’s another great passage about this. It’s found in Matthew 11. Maybe you remember these words of Jesus. “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
I remember a description I read about that passage years ago. The author pointed out that a “yoke” was the wooden thing that went over the necks of a team of oxen so they could pull a load. In other words, a “yoke” is something that linked two animals together in their work. And that’s a great metaphor! Because Jesus is saying how he is helping us with our burdens as we strive to move forward. He’s helping us “pull the load.” He doesn’t just “inspire us” as we look to him. He’s with us, he strengthens us. And that’s a big difference, isn’t it?
I was in the Chicago Marathon in the late ‘90’s. And as part of that race, I hooked up with the pacing team from Runner’s World Magazine. That was a program designed to help people reach certain race goals. They trained runners as “pacers” who were to finish the race in a certain time. By running with them, a person could be kept on track to make that goal. Well at the start, our pacer said, “We’re going to start out easy and then pick up the pace after a few miles.” And I’ll never forget it. He took off like a shot, and left our group behind scratching our heads! It was like watching the Road Runner! Do you remember him? He would leave a trail of smoke and the road would rumple up behind him! Well this was the same thing! I spent over an hour catching up to the guy, and by the time I did, I was so tired, I didn’t make my goal!
The point is, that wasn’t the kind of “support” we were expecting! We were expecting someone to be running “along side us,” keeping us in the right groove, encouraging us, all the way to the finish. That’s what “looking to Jesus” does for us. That’s what he promises us!
In the upper room, Jesus was telling his disciples that he would leave them soon, but(!) he would be back. “And” he said at that point “…because I live you will live also.” “…and you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me…” (John 14:18-20)
“Looking to Jesus” is more than just watching him ahead of us as a guide. It’s about “being in him” and him being in us. It’s about him running beside us, supporting us. “Looking to Jesus” is about “Being in Jesus.” That’s where our strength and guidance truly comes from.
So, what’s the practical side of this. First of all it’s recognizing that this is something we want! Again, it’s easier to “do religion” than to “look to Jesus.” It’s easier to “go through the motions,” to do the “minimum of faith,” than it is to seek Gods’ presence and to place our lives in his hands. It’s easier to be “into ourselves” than it is to be “in Christ!” But if you remember, that’s the description about being “New Creations.” “If anyone is in Christ they are a new creation…”
We need to decide we want to do that. We need to decide that we want to grow in our faith, that we want to move forward, that we want to “look to Jesus” as we “run the race.” It is my hope that we do! It is my hope that that’s the goal of every one of us! If you’re not sure, I implore you to decide… today. Or, if you’re not yet ready, go home and talk to God about it. But don’t do it “some day.” Do it today!
The second thing, and the thing I want to leave you with, is that “looking to Jesus” is something we need to make a practice of, like he himself did! “He often went to a lonely place to pray.” He regularly sought the strength and support of God. May we “make it a practice,” too.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, le us also lay aside every weight and sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”
Eternal God, as did Jesus himself when he was here on earth, we come to you seeking your strength and guidance. Help us to know that our lives are “in you.” Help us to seek your strength continually. Help us to know the peace you give, no matter what the circumstances of our lives. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.