First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sunday Sermon Notes (January 26, 2020)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
The New Testament writers love to use a race, or a marathon, as a picture of the Christian life. The image of a long-distance race was as popular in the first century Roman Empire as it is today. If you know anything about long distance running, you will know runners talk about reaching “the wall” or the “finish line”; it is that point in the race when every cell in your body is telling you to give up; the point at which “youths grow tired and weary, and young people stumble and fall” as the Prophet Isaiah says in Isaiah 40:30.
The writer to the Hebrews chapter 12 compares the Christian life to a race, and in Hebrews 12:12-13, the author acknowledges the tensity of this race as he says, “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.”
At that point in a race, when you feel that your arms have become feeble and your knees have gotten weak, the runner must resolve to keep going. He or she must fix their eyes on the finishing line and persevere. The message to the Hebrew Christians was the message of the Prophet Isaiah too for those running a spiritual race. When you feel faint and weary, then you must resolve to keep on going, to fix your eyes on the finishing line. “Fix your eyes on Jesus” says the author to Hebrews 12:2. “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens,” Isaiah says in chapter 40:26.
Since the beginning of January 2020, we have been talking about running our own spiritual race, the race that is set before us, and together, we are trying to analyze some key factors for running a good Christian race; some channels of strength that cause us to run and not grow tired and weary. Last week we talked about the importance of running with a team.
First: We Run with a Team
One of the great motivations of running the Christian race is we run with a team. God didn’t intend that we run the race on our own. We must always remember that we are part of a family that cheers us on. There is so great a cloud of witnesses that encourages us to keep running. The opening phrase of Hebrews 12:1 refers back to Hebrews chapter 11. All of the Old Testament saints, who endured all sorts of trials by faith, should encourage us to keep running when we feel like quitting.
One great channel of God’s strength and grace is this family, your church family, those who have gone to be with the Lord and those who are present. On one hand, the saints who have gone before us are calling out to us by their examples of faith, “Keep going, I made it and you can, too! I know it’s hard, but the reward is worth it! Don’t quit! The finish line is not too far ahead!” We look out into the so great a cloud of witnesses and realize that every one of them finished the race, and we are reminded, “It can be done. It can be done.”
On the other hand, we can lean on those who are still around. The first group of saints are the Church Triumphant; the second group is the Church Militant or the Church Suffering. As we run the race with the Church Suffering, we can lean on their wisdom, their love, their support, and their encouragement. In His good please, our Lord pleased to have us run with a team. The Church Suffering inspires us to keep going.
Second: We are Called to Renew our Strength
One of the ingredients of running well is to renew your strength. The Prophet Isaiah calls us to renew our strength, to soar on wings like eagles. He says in Isaiah 40:31, “But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
Isaiah tells us that our strength is renewed when we wait, when we hope for the Lord. But what does it mean to wait? In Hebrew, the word “qavah” means “to bind together like a cord.” It doesn’t mean to tie a cord around a bundle of sticks to keep them together. Instead, it’s the process of making a rope by twisting or weaving small strings together to form the rope. The more strands that are twisted or woven together in a rope, the greater its strength would be. The more we are woven to God, the stronger we get.
In order to understand how to wait upon the Lord accurately, Isaiah uses the image of an eagle renewing their strength. It’s a fascinating story. Legend says that an Eagle at the age of 40-50, flies to a high place and there it endures a harsh trial of endurance and change. It can’t fly because its feathers are overgrown. Therefore, it plucks all the feathers from its body. It plucks its talons from its feet because the talons have grown curled and useless. Its beak has grown too long and curled. It breaks its beak against a rock. Defenseless, it cries out and waits for the time of renewal. Other eagles hear its cry and come to aid. They fly overhead, scaring off predators, and they bring food to their incapacitated friend.
Like it happens to eagles, God makes us to go through harsh trials of endurance and change. This is necessary to shape our Christian character and faith. In such time we need to unite with the Lord like strands of a rope by waiting upon Him. This unity renews our strength.
In 2 Chronicles 20:12, Jehoshaphat prayed “Our eyes are set upon you, O God.” God is our only hope. In Psalm 25:15, King David prayed, “My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare.”
Friends, God is calling us today to renew our strength; to rise on wings like eagles. The good news is: God is able to make it happen. Our part is to wait for the Lord, to hope and trust in Him. This may be a painful process. As you pluck those overgrown feathers, pluck those curly talons and beak, God will enable you to endure this change. He will comfort you through His presence and through His Body here on earth, the Church. “The Lord gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” Isaiah 40:29-31. Amen.