Series on Hebrews, V Superior Privileges, D Superior Perspective Text: 12:1-17, Title: Run or Else


John MacArthur calls this passage “Run for your life.” Unfortunately most people view the Christian life itself as some kind of medal or trophy. They act as if salvation through Jesus Christ was like a Super Bowl ring given to a member of a team that never got into the game and who just sat on the bench when his team played. Maybe the view is more like all the spectators in the crowd get a Super Bowl ring. It just doesn’t ring true. The people to whom Hebrews is written already knew they were in a struggle against evil. The point of this exhortation is to tell them not to quit. They were in the race already as we are told in verse 4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. Sometimes modern Christians haven’t even gotten off the mark or even worse, when the contestants are announced they are drop-outs. Although there is debate about who wrote Hebrews, we can be sure that if it wasn’t Paul it was someone who shared his enthusiasm for sports. Paul often picked his illustrations from boxing or wrestling or track. He tells the Corinthian Christians in I Corinthians 9 to run to get the prize, He tells the Christians in Galatia in Chapter 5 of his letter that they were running a good race but are in danger of dropping out, and to those in Philippi he writes become blameless and pure children of God in this depraved generation so that in the end I will not have run in vain. (Philippians 2:16). This is also the figure used by the writer in Hebrews 12:1-3, Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. What we see here is the author trying to give these persecuted Christians the right perspective. Picture yourself at the starting line. Look up at the turnout, look at the triumph, look at the trial and when you have looked run for your life.

I The Turnout

You’ve heard team leaders talk about the importance of the crowd being behind the team cheering them on. It does make a difference. But this is no ordinary stadium with conventional spectators. The great cloud of witnesses are martyrs. Although the Greek word martyr does mean witness, it never means a mere observer. It means those who bear testimony by their victorious achievements and courageous sufferings. Such is this crowd. Have you ever heard an athlete say “My Father died this year and I’m dedicating this season to him, trying to be the best ever.” Or perhaps they simply say that this is the first game their family or their parents ever attended, and they are going to play their heart out, It makes a difference doesn’t it? Well picture an audience with Abel and Abraham, Moses and Noah, Isaiah and Jeremiah. Add those early Christian martyrs who faced the lions in the Roman circus and were torn to pieces. And there is John Wycliffe and John Hus forerunners of the Reformation who were burned at the stake, and nearby are the Reformers who suffered for their faith Luther, and Calvin and Knox and Zwingli. Across from them sit the great missionary pioneers like Adoniram Judson, William Carey, David Livingston, Hudson Taylor, and C.T., Studd who gave their all for Christ. Not far from them are Jim Elliott and Nate Saint and the others who gave their lives to bring the Gospel to the Auca Indians. And there are millions of unknown saints who were martyred for their faith in Communist Russia and China. And as you see the crowd you know you’ve shed those extra pounds. You throw off the warm-up clothing that will impede you, you flex the muscles that are finely honed. Different weights and sins get in the way of running the spiritual  race. They are the encumbrances, the associations and the engagements of society and business. We have looked at the turnout, now look at the triumph.

II The Triumph

The example of Christ is useful in many ways but the focus of the passage is on the fact that Jesus suffered for the joy set before him and he has achieved that joy in his resurrection. Remember what we read in verse 3, Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. He is victorious because he fixed his eyes on the goal-the triumph, the victory. I remember when a British medical Doctor, Roger Bannister ran the mile under four minutes. Many said it couldn’t be done by a human being. Nobody in history had ever done it before. But friends, our situation is different. Others have done it and they did it because they looked for a city whose builder and maker was God. When the author tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus he is reminding us that there is no greater example of endurance. He didn’t have to run, he chose to run for others. And the triumph which he had in view was to bring many sons into glory. The victory in view was a victory of grace and mercy and a victory in which all his people would share. The triumph was a renewed world and a new creation for the glory of God. In the last analysis none of the others listed in Chapter 11 could or would have done what they did except for the fact that Jesus did it. Though they could not see Him, yet his triumph made theirs possible.

III The Trial

Having looked at the turnout and the triumph we now come to the hard part. The race must be run. We must look forward to the awful trial before us. The word used for race at the beginning is the Greek word from which we get our word agony. The last portion of our text is about that agony and its purpose is to give us a different perspective on suffering and tribulation. First of all the author says in verses 3 and 4 you haven’t suffered enough, Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. Small comfort! Opposition is the rule of the game. Suffering is the theme. If I am a coach and my runner is not winning. What do I tell him? Take it easy? No I say train harder and suffer because that is how the game is played. In Luke 16 Jesus was combating the self-righteousness of the Pharisees, and he says in verse 16, The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. The Authorized Version says pressing rather than forcing. People are not wandering into the kingdom but they are exerting force to be a part of it. They are not just knocking on the door: they are knocking down the doors. Thus, we are reminded of something else which is very important to our perspective. The fact is that if you don’t suffer, you’re not in the race! verse 5-8 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”  Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Now the author makes a leap from human discipline to divine discipline. The difference is in the goal as he points out in verses 9-11, Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. The earthly goals are fallible and fleeting, just as Paul says in I Timothy 4:8, Train yourself to be godly for bodily exercise profits little but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both  the present life and the life to come. I see God doing this here. Some of you have had awful trials. The rest of us say we’re sorry it happened, but secretly we think I hope that doesn’t happen to me because no discipline seems pleasant at the time. Our biggest problem is our failure to see the pain as an absolutely necessary part of the training. There is no suffering God has sent to any of us that is not part of the training.


And so the conclusion takes us back to the metaphor of the race requiring strong runners and a straight path.  We are all in the same race. I remember seeing Mary Dekker Slaney forced to the inside of a premier race, stumbling over the infield curbing and falling. She was out of the race, disabled! We are not to let that happen but we are to be examples to one another and encourage one another in the race. So we read in verses 12-17, Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest sonAfterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears. Even in an individual sport like track, there are teams. One runner will set the pace for a period of time, then the best runner takes over, turns on the after burner, and goes for the gold. They help and encourage one another and the victory is shared by all. The word  disabled means “lame” or “halting” and is used in 1 Kings 18:21 where Elijah was confronting lame, vacillating Israelites and trying to persuade them to take a side. The writer of Hebrews was warning believers about the danger of misleading lame, uncommitted unbelievers and of causing them to apostatize back into Judaism. Sadly, Christians sometimes are the greatest stumbling blocks to Christianity. A bad example by a true believer can tilt a person away from full commitment to Christ, and therefore from salvation. A poor testimony can cause irreparable harm, many times without our knowing it. It can cause an already limping unbeliever to be put out of joint, completely dislocated spiritually.  Run for your life!