First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday, March 26, 2023)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
“Run with Your Eyes on Jesus!”
Isaiah 40:27-31; Hebrews 12:1-6
The Bible teaches very clearly that life is a race. Some people get to finish that race really well, while others, unfortunately, do a poor job finishing that race. I meet people all the time that get waylaid, sidetracked, distracted. They get disqualified. For one reason or another, they die with unfulfilled dreams, with unrealized potential and without ever becoming what God intended their life to become. That is a real tragedy.
I also meet other people who know that God has a purpose for their lives; people who know that they are in a race. They are always trying to find ways to run the race well. They are aware of the dangers around them. They are willing to make commitments. They are willing to make sacrifices so that God’s purposes in their lives are fulfilled.
The Greek word for race in Hebrews 12:1 is “agona” from which we get the English word “agony”. The image here for runners in a race, in a marathon, in the ancient Greek world. The race was an agonizing, grueling ordeal, exhausting, tiring; and winning required self-discipline, stamina, strategy, and patient endurance.
For the Hebrew Christians, that was an important message to hear. They had believed the Christian message, but because of persecution, discrimination, ostracization, and false teaching, they were tempted to quit the race. They got sidetracked. Here comes the author of Hebrews with an encouraging message to them, and to us, to keep going.
After reminding them of the great heroes of faith in Hebrews chapter 11; those wonderful men and women of God who have finished the race of faith well, the author hands us the torch. That great cloud of witnesses reveals to us that our God is reliable and that fight is worth fighting; that race is worth running. He has called us and He will give us sufficient grace to finish the race. As we wrap up our study in the letters to the Hebrews, I would like to offer a few rules if we are to run the agona, the race set before us. Three important rules:
First: Lay aside Every Weight and the Sin
“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” Hebrews 12:1. The first rule for running well is to get rid of anything that will slow you down on the race that God has put before you. What are we to get rid of? The writer mentions “the sin that clings so closely.” Sin is so deceptive. We think that sin is harmless, but we don’t realize that it’s weighing us down. It’s keeping us from winning the race that God intends. Sin sucks our energy. It distracts us. It fills us with a sense of guilt. You don’t have to run with a weight on your back. There is a Savior who has borne our grief and carried our sorrows.
Second: Run with Perseverance
“Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” Hebrews 12:1. The Christian “race” is a race which must be run with perseverance. It’s a tough race. It’s agonizing. The Christian life is not a sprint; it is a marathon. How many people have set out to follow Christ, but have turned aside after some period of time? How many people have decided to really commit themselves to God, but didn’t keep up the commitment?
We live in a culture that doesn’t appreciate patience and endurance. We want things done yesterday. But good things take time; it takes time to cook a good meal; it takes time to craft a fine work of art; it takes time to grow a garden — there are no shortcuts for these things. But we think we can “microwave or instant” our church, or our spiritual growth, and we can’t. Perseverance, persistence, endurance are necessary for our race even when we see no immediate fruit, we need to keep going.
Third: Stay Focused on Jesus
This third rule is the most important part of our God-given strategy for keeping on in hard times. It actually encompasses all of those other parts of the strategy. Hebrews 12:2 spells it out: “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.” We either look unto Jesus or the obstacles down the road.
On one hand, having already trusted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, as believers we’re to look to Him as the ultimate and sufficient source of our strength throughout the whole journey. He is our companion, friend, and guide. Not only that, but Jesus is also our supreme example. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” Hebrews 12:3.
Whatever you and I might face, Jesus faced worse, yet He persevered. So, when you and I feel like the going is tough, remember what all Jesus put up with. He was falsely accused, rejected, deserted by His friends, ridiculed, spat upon, beaten unmercifully, and nailed to a cross, not for any faults of His, for He had none, but for your sins and mine. In our race, we always need to look to Jesus as our example, as well as our true source of strength.
Friends, may our spirits be refreshed today knowing that God has given us all the tools to finish the race of faith that is set before us. Let’s lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely. Let’s run with perseverance. And most importantly, let’s fix our eyes on Jesus. May we never give up when life gets hard. God is working even when it feels like He is far away. He is never confused or surprised by the things that happen in life. He is constantly working in circumstances to bring us to Him.
There will be hills and valleys, there will be good times and bad times. There will be people cheering and people criticizing and attacking. All these things are part of the race. The Prophet Isaiah reminds us that “God gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young people stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” Isaiah 40:29-31. Run with your eyes and heart on Jesus. Run with your hope in Jesus. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.Top of Form\
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