First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sunday Sermon Notes (January 19th, 2020)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
Many years ago, the Lord sent my way a young man whose life was a mess, to say the least; literally, this young man’s life was falling apart. We met regularly and he called me frequently. I felt so bad for the young man and wanted to help him. Though he professed to believe in Christ, and said that he wanted to follow Jesus, he had no idea of what that meant. On one occasion, I described in detail what a daily walk with Christ looks like. I explained what a daily time in God’s Word and prayer was like, what obedience to the Bible means, and how to think and live like a Christian.
When I was done, I asked him, “Have you ever done anything close to what I’ve just described?” He said, “Yeah, I did that once for two weeks, but, Pastor, it didn’t work.” He thought that he had given it a fair try in two weeks! I explained to him that the Christian faith isn’t a two-week sprint; rather, it’s a lifelong marathon. The Christian life is a lifelong, exhausting race that entails some long hills to climb and some swampy marshes to plod through. To make it to the end, we need to consider some very important factors.
No one gets to win a marathon by chance. There must be self-discipline, commitment, and dedication behind finishing well in any race, including our spiritual race. We have been talking about those ingredients, those motivations, of running the Christian race.
Focusing on the Wrong Object
Last Sunday we talked about the danger of focusing on the wrong object; the danger of looking at the wrong direction. Our attention can be so focused on the challenges surrounding us that we fail to see the available resources that are so vital to our spiritual well-being. Last week we looked at the story of the Prophet Elisha and Ben-hadad, the King of Syria, from 2 Kings chapter 6.
Ben-hadad wanted to get ride of Elisha because Elisha spoiled all Ben-hadad plans against Israel. The Syrian King wanted to capture the Prophet Elisha, so he sent a detachment of soldiers by night to take the man of God captive. One morning, the servant of Elisha got up and went out early and he saw an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. The town was completely surrounded by the enemy. To Elisha’s helper, the situation seemed hopeless. He cried out, “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?”
Elisha answered, “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” In 2 Kings 6:17, we read that Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world,” 1 John 4:4.
Two short observations this morning as we revisit Hebrews chapter 12. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”
First: God Sets the Course of our Race
If you’re running a marathon, you can’t make up your own course. If you stray from the course, you’ll be disqualified. I like the words of Hebrews 12:1, “let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” “The race that is set before us” ~ God is the Sovereign One who sets the course for each of us, just as He set the course of the cross for Jesus.
To finish the Christian marathon, it’s important to keep in mind at all times that the Sovereign God sets the course. Nothing can happen without God’s permission. Nothing happens out of God’s good will toward His children. You may not like parts of the course. You may be prone to grumble, “Why did the course have to go over this hill, or through this swamp?” The answer is, “Because the Sovereign God planned it this way.” You won’t be able to run by faith unless you submit your will to God’s will.
Second: We Run with a Team
One of the great motivations of running the Christian race is we run with a team. We must always remember that we are part of a family that cheers for us. There is so great a cloud of witnesses 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. The word cloud was a classical Greek metaphor for a large multitude.
What the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is simply saying here is that 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.” Those saints are witnesses to God’s deeds, witnesses of Jesus’ power, and witnesses of the faith which only the Holy Spirit can inspire and sustain.
We can look at them and see examples of faith and perseverance under every imaginable circumstance: there's David who committed adultery and murder, and he finished; there's John Mark the quitter, who ran when Jesus was arrested, and he finished; there’s Mary the prostitute, and she finished; there’s Job who suffered so much, and he finished; there’s Stephen who was hated and stoned, and he finished.
Perhaps you could name some other witnesses that have inspired you. Maybe you can picture them now. You witnessed how they ran. You saw how they finished. You know that they have received their reward. And so we can look at them and say “Well, by the power, faith, and grace that got them through, I’m going to finish too!”
Friends, Hebrews 12:1 is a wake-up call to see our life as a race and to run it with passion and zeal, with energy and discipline. The author of Hebrews wants us to get serious about the race again, to test ourselves to see if we are running or lounging on the couch. I am not saying that running is an easy work. The race can be long. The journey can be difficult. The road can be treacherous. So how can we finish successfully? Here is the secret: Look back to the witnesses; Look forward to the joy; and Look up to Jesus. Amen.