Encouragement for the Weary: It’s All about Jesus

Sermon by Derek Thomas on August 22, 2010

Hebrews 12:1-3

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The Lord’s Day Morning

August 22, 2010

Hebrews 12:1-3

“Encouragement for the
Weary: It’s All About Jesus”

Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

Our help is in the name of the Lord who made the heavens and the earth.
Let us worship God!

Lord our God, we come into Your
presence grasping again the name, the precious name of the Lord Jesus our
Savior, our Prophet, our Priest, our King, our sin-bearer.
We thank You, O Lord, that the way has been opened up, a fountain opened
up for sin and uncleanness, that whosoever believes on the Lord Jesus Christ
shall be saved. We thank You, O
Lord, that You’ve rescued us from sin and perdition and brought us into union
and communion with the Lord Jesus, that now are we the sons of God and it doth
not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear we shall
be like Him, for we shall see Him even as He is.
We ask for Your blessing.
Come Holy Spirit. Enable us now to
worship You in spirit and in truth.
We ask it all for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Now turn with me to Hebrews chapter 12.
Hebrews chapter 12. We’re
going to read the first three verses.
Before we read these verses together let’s look to God in prayer.

Our Father, we are thankful for
the Scriptures that are able to make us wise unto salvation through faith which
is in Jesus Christ our Lord. We
thank You for the encouragements and promises and exhortations of Scripture, one
of which we are about to examine this morning.
We are, as ever, a needy people.
You know our hearts and dispositions this morning.
Come, by Your Spirit. Open up
Your Word to us. We ask it in Jesus’
name. Amen.

Hebrews chapter 12 and verses 1 to 3:

“Therefore, since we
are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every
weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race
that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame,
and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider Him who
endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow
weary or fainthearted.”

Amen. May God bless to us that
reading of His holy and inerrant Word.

This is, if you turn to chapter 13 and verse 22, you’ll see that the author
gives us a sign, an indication as to what this letter is all about.
“I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation.”
You could render that “encouragement.”
Bear with my word of “encouragement” or word of “exhortation” for I have
written to you briefly. Now
throughout Hebrews there are a number of exhortations.
Chapter 2 verse 1, chapter 4 verse 1, chapter 6 verse 1, chapter 10 verse
23 are just some of the exhortations that you’ll find in the epistle to the
Hebrews, but this is the one that we’re going to look at this morning.
“Run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

Now I said at the eight-thirty service this morning that I’m going to have to
speak about a topic that I know almost nothing about and that is running.
And I must admit, twenty, thirty people in the break between the first
and second services this morning who regaled me with excruciating stories about
how many miles you ran yesterday.
One deacon in this church cycled, was it sixty-five miles, yesterday.
I questioned his sanity.
(laughter) I ran when I was young,
but I’m going to try and enter into this metaphor this morning in a way that
some of you might think is somewhat hypocritical of me.

Now there are three things in this passage this morning.

I. There is a great exhortation to persevere.

The first is this — there is a great exhortation here to persevere, or in the
language of the ESV, to endure, to run with endurance, to run with perseverance.
Now the idea, the metaphor here, is not running a hundred meter race but
a marathon, the race that is for the long haul. And you run that race very
differently from the way you would run a hundred meter dash, sprint.

Some of you know earlier this summer I encountered the surgeon’s blade for a
brief moment and it rendered me in bed for a day and I endured, for what was the
first time in many years, daytime TV, which reminded me of one of the circles of
Dante’s inferno — to be locked into daytime TV!
(laughter) But my mother
called, as mothers do, to inquire after me, and she said to me, “Are you
watching the Tour de France?” the cycle race, you know, through France.
Now knowing where the sports channels were on my TV I eventually found it
and got absolutely fascinated, more by the scenery than the race itself.
But as I watched this race – and this race as you know takes place over
many, many days — they cycle, I don’t know, lots and lots of miles every day for
many hours in the noonday summer heat, what fascinated me was their endurance.
When portions of this race were climbing to elevations of five, six,
seven thousand feet, with their seats out of the saddle for most of that time
having to cycle uphill, it was the endurance.
I must say I asked on occasions why they did this, but the sheer, the
sheer perseverance to get to the end.
Now that’s the metaphor, that’s the picture the writer of Hebrews is
implying here. We are to run with

Now is he saying, and some of you know all too well those two little words at
the end of verse 3 — “to grow weary or fainthearted.”
And that may well describe some of you this morning.
You’re weary and are in danger of becoming and yielding to
faintheartedness. Is he saying,
“Here’s what you need to do, you just need to try harder.
You just need to work harder.
You just need to do more. Don’t
stop, just do more. That’s what you
need”? No, that’s not what he’s
saying. That would be to turn the
Gospel on its head. Look at the
language that he employs. He says,
“Run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
This race has been mapped out for us.
It’s been planned for us. You
know that verse, two verses in Ephesians 2 — 8 and 9 — that we’re “saved by
grace through faith, that not of ourselves it is the gift of God, not of works
lest any man should boast”? And then
you remember he goes on to say that although we are saved by grace apart from
the works of the law, we are saved unto good works “which God has prepared
beforehand that we should walk in them.”
In other words, it’s all of grace from beginning to end.
This race that we are endure, this race that we are to run, is a race
which God has set out before us, has planned for us from before the foundation
of the world.

He wants us, in other words — look at the text.
It’s all over the text. He
wants us to draw the motivation and the power and stamina for endurance from
Jesus, from Jesus, looking unto Jesus — because you are in union with Jesus,
because you are a forgiven sinner, because all the guilt is gone, because you
are loved, because you are special, because you are adopted children run with
endurance. It’s not, “do more” in the sense of find some inner strength that
lies within you. You know, dig deep
down within you to find some hidden resource that you didn’t know that you had.
He’s not saying you’re saved by grace and
then it’s all up to you. You know
there’s a kind of preaching that sounds very much like that.
You’re saved, the entry door is grace and faith, and then it’s all up to
you. The rest is all up to you.
And this is the “all up to you” part — run with endurance.
No, it’s Gospel from beginning to end.
It’s “run” because you’re in union with Jesus.
It’s “run” because your sins are forgiven.
“Run” because all of the obstacles have been mapped out before you.
There isn’t an obstacle that Jesus hasn’t planned and over which He has
set promises and given covenants and shed His blood.
Looking unto Jesus, looking unto Jesus — it’s all about Jesus.
It’s all about Jesus. He
knows this race. This is a great
exhortation to persevere.

You remember how Spurgeon was converted?
You remember it was that snowy night, he was on his way somewhere else,
and he turns into this little chapel.
There’s only half a dozen people there.
He’s sitting up in the balcony.
There’s a preacher his name he doesn’t know.
He said he was a very poor preacher but he had one redeeming merit and
that was he kept repeating the text.
And the text was, “Look unto Me all the ends of the earth and be ye saved.”
And he kept on repeating it and he looked up into the balcony and he saw
Spurgeon and he says, “You look miserable!”
Sorry I’m pointing at you now!
(laughter) “Look unto Jesus.”
And that was it. That was it.
That was what the Holy Spirit used to convert Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
But you know, it’s like that every single day.
Look unto Jesus.

You run this race and it is a race and it involves endurance, and it involves
perseverance, and there is something called “the pain barrier.”
Okay, I know nothing about it, but people tell me about the pain barrier
that you have to go through when you run a marathon.
Does it occur at sixteen miles or at eighteen miles or twenty miles?
And once you’re through that pain barrier you can see the end —
persevere, run with perseverance, but look to Jesus.
Look to Jesus every step of the way.
That’s the first thing.
There’s a great exhortation to perseverance.

II. A warning about hindrances.

The second thing here is there’s a warning here about hindrances.
And he talks about two of them — “lay aside every weight” and “sin which
clings so closely.” Now commentators
are divided. Is he talking about two
separate things or is he talking about one thing in two different ways?
I’m tempted to think that he’s talking about the former — in other words,
two different things. The first
thing is the weight. Lay aside every
weight. He’s talking about things
that are not sinful in themselves.
He’s talking about legitimate things.
You know, if you’re running a race you don’t wear your clumpy walking
shoes that you take on a hike through the hills.
You don’t wear your Sunday shoes — do you have Sunday shoes?
I’m old fashioned. I have
Sunday shoes — shoes that I only wear on Sundays.
You know, black polished shoes that I don’t wear except on Sundays.
But you don’t wear those if you’re going to go running.
It’s not wrong to wear these on a Monday.

Sometimes people ask this question — What’s wrong with it?
What’s wrong with this?
That’s invariably the wrong question to ask.
That’s not how the Bible would approach that situation.
The Bible would approach that situation and say, “Does this decision that
I’ve made about the Christian life, about my approach to the Christian life,
about what I do in relation to the Christian life, it’s not sinful”

But the Bible says, “Does that help you and enable you to be a better

That’s the question.
— Am I entitled to do such-and-such?
You know people ask about the Lord’s Day, people ask all those questions
— Can I do this? Can I do that?
I never answer those questions.
I never ever answer those questions because the spirit in which they’re
asked is invariably wrong. It’s,
“What’s the least I can get away with and still regard myself as a Christian?”
That’s not how the Bible approaches it.
The Bible approaches it by saying,
“Will this help me be a better Christian?”

You know Paul says in one place, actually it’s in 1 Corinthians 7 – you can look
at it later — he says, “I say to you who are married, live as though you were
unmarried.” I didn’t make that up.
Paul actually says that. “I
say to you who are married, live as though you are unmarried.”
What’s he saying? Well, he’s
addressing the person who takes the hand of another and says, “You’re mine first
and Jesus’ second.” And Paul is
saying that “marriage is fine, marriage is a blessing; marriage is a blessing
that God gave in Eden.
That’s why Satan wants to destroy it.
But I want you to live as though you were unmarried.
In other words, I want you to live and say, ‘You’re Jesus’ first and
you’re mine second.’”

Cast aside the weight and the sin, and the ESV puts it this way — “sin which
clings so closely.” And this is what
he’s getting at. It’s so close you
can’t see it. You’ll think ill of me
now, but have you ever been in a situation and you say to yourself, “Don’t they
see, don’t they see how rude they are?”
I mean you don’t say that publically, you’re southerners.
You don’t say that publically.
You may think it in your brain.
Am I the only one that thinks that?
You say to yourself, “Don’t they see how rude they are?”
And you know, they don’t.
Most of the time they don’t because it sticks so closely to them it’s become
part of what they are.

Here’s what you need to do. You need
to listen to those who know you really well.
And it may be a friend, it may be a partner, a spouse, and they say, “You
know, this thing about you — don’t get all defensive.”
Say, “I know. I’m sorry.
Help me to cast it away because I want to be more like Jesus.”
That’s the goal here. You
know what? What’s the big goal this
morning? To conform us to the image
of Jesus, that’s the goal. So lay
aside the weight, those things that you regard as your liberties.
And I want to defend my liberties against anyone.
Don’t mess with my liberties.
“God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines
and commandments of men.” I’m
quoting the Westminster Confession.
Don’t mess with my liberties. But
are those liberties helping you to be a better Christian?
And those sins, those sins that you can barely see anymore, because
they’ve become part and parcel of you, they’re hindrances to endurance.

John Owen, 17th century Puritan, perhaps one of the three greatest
theologians who ever lived, who wrote in Latin and spoke in Latin and dreamt in
Latin, once said, “Let not that man think that he makes any progress in true
holiness who does not walk over the bellies of his lusts.”
There’s a warning here about hindrances.

III. A focus on our encouragements.

But thirdly, not only is there this great exhortation to perseverance, not only
is there here a warning about hindrances, but in the third place, there’s a
focus on our greatest encouragements.
Now there are two of them here in the passage.
The first you see there — “a cloud” verse 1 — “We are surrounded by so
great a cloud of witnesses.” He’s
talking about Hebrews 11. He’s
talking about the gallery of the faithful — Abraham and Moses and David and
Barak and Jephthah, and Rahab, and all the other names that are mentioned in
Hebrews 11. I think he’s saying,
“They’re watching you.” You know, as
the book of Revelation certainly hints at in Revelation 6, those who are on the
other side know what’s going on here and they’re watching, not in the sense of
condemning, not in the sense of tutting and saying, “Oh, no, no, no.”
In the sense of they’re willing you to go on; they’re encouraging you.
This great cloud of witnesses in heaven are looking down and they’re
willing, they’re wishing you to persevere and endure just as they were enabled
to endure and persevere. And some of
them did some pretty bad stuff.

But there’s another encouragement.
“Looking unto Jesus” — looking to Jesus.
And he uses two words — the “founder and perfecter” of our faith.
The founder — it’s not a great translation.
It’s a word, it’s a word that means the trailblazer, the one who goes
before who clears the path. Think of
a platoon in a jungle somewhere and you come to a ravine and you can’t go back
because you’re being pursued and you can’t jump this ravine, but the platoon
commander jumps across with a rope.
That’s the idea. He’s the
trailblazer. He opens up the way.
He’s the aphorao in Greek.
He’s the one who goes before.
You know, you’re tempted to grow weary, you’re tempted to get fainthearted.
Some of you are in the dark.
You’re walking in darkness and can see no light and you get down on your hands
and knees in the pitch darkness and you feel the sand on the floor and there’s a
footprint. It’s the footprint of
Jesus, the trailblazer. He’s been
here. He’s been in this cave.
He’s been in this darkness.
“We do not have a High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our
infirmities but was in all points tempted like as we are.”
Look to Him.

But He’s also the finisher, or as the ESV has it, the “perfecter.”
You know when I was growing up there was a trade called a finisher.
I don’t even know if they exist today, but it was one thing to get a job
done, but it was another thing to get the finisher in and do all the little
details and make it perfect. He’s
the perfecter. He makes it perfect.
There are no mistakes here.
There aren’t any things that He’s overlooked.
He begins it; He finishes it, for you and me.
It’s grace all the way. It’s
Jesus all the way. Look unto Jesus.
Look unto Jesus who begins it and ends it.

And what was the motivation for Jesus, because this is your motivation too?
Look at the text. Look at the
text. “For the joy that was set
before Him.” For the joy of being
back in His Father’s arms and hearing those words, “Well done, My Son.
I love you.” You’re tempted
this morning to grow weary and fainthearted because it’s difficult, because it’s
tough, because there are setbacks, things happen.
This happened to friends of mine this week, out of the blue,
unexpectedly. They didn’t see it
coming. It’s going to change their
entire lives from here on in. Their
lives are going to be different now.
All of their decisions and hopes and dreams and ambitions now have to take this
particular thing into view. Tragic
mistake? No, just part of the divine
organization and plan of a sovereign God who works everything together for the
good of those who love Him. Look to


Perhaps this morning that’s precisely your problem.
You’ve taken your eyes off Jesus.
I was talking to the prayer meeting on Wednesday night about Peter.
You remember when Jesus fed the 5,000 He sent the disciples in a boat
across the Sea of Galilee, He went up into a mountain to pray, and then a storm
broke out in the Sea of Galilee in the middle of the night.
And in the fourth watch of the night, Jesus comes walking on the water.
Some of the disciples think it’s a ghost and Peter says, only Peter could
say this, “Let me come to You.” And
he steps out of the boat and he begins to walk on the water and then he
remembers the laws of physics that he did when he was in school, that heavier
items just go down. And he began to
sink because he took his eyes off Jesus.

What’s the lesson? What’s the
lesson? It couldn’t be simpler,
couldn’t be simpler. Don’t take your
eyes off of Jesus. Don’t take your
eyes off Him. “Jesus the very
thought of Thee with sweetness fills my breast, but sweeter far Thy face to see
and in Thy presence rest.”

We’re going to sing not what’s in the bulletin but, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.”
It’s number 481. “Turn your
eyes upon Jesus; look full in His wonderful face; and the things of earth will
grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.

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