Focus: Hebrews 12: 2a “…Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…”
Back around 1970 I was a Religion Major at Bethany Nazarene College. One of the requirements for my major was that I had to take a few courses of Koine Greek. That is the Greek language that was spoken by the common people during the time of Christ and is the original language in which most of the New Testament was written. That form of Greek is very different from the Modern day Greek language—just as the English we speak today is very different from the English spoken centuries ago. That first semester I was struggling with the various grammatical constructions and at times felt overwhelmed. I remember one evening being very frustrated with my homework assignment. I decided to take a break and slip over to the chapel by the Religion building for my personal devotions. As I entered the chapel, just to the left was a desk with an open Bible. It was opened to this passage of scripture in Hebrews 12. Verse 11 especially caught my attention: “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.” I knew this was God’s message to me about the disciplines of my studies and especially the difficult process of mastering the Greek assignments. Just a side note: I went on to take several more courses in Greek, with just a few hours short of having my minor in that language.
Since then, this chapter has spoken to me on many occasions in various ways. Today, I see that this entire passage is built on the beginning verses and especially the words in verses one and two: “….Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…”
Last week we examined God’s Command through Joshua to the Israelites as they prepared to cross the Jordon River and enter the Promised Land: “Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you” (Joshua 3:5).
Both of these passages speak of moving ahead, following God’s Plan, living a life that honors God, being God’s Holy people as we embark on this spiritual journey.
Let’s see what the Holy Spirit says to us today as we examine this passage in Hebrews 12.
I. WE ARE CONTINUING WHAT OTHERS HAVE STARTED.
a. Hebrews 12: 1 says, “Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…”
b. The “Witnesses” are those mentioned in Hebrews 11—heroes of God’s people who faced challenges but stayed true to God. The word translated “witnesses” is the same Greek word that is often translated “Martyrs”—people who willingly died rather than forsake their belief in God.
c. It is very true that each generation and each person must have its own experience with God. I’ve heard it said that
“we can’t get to heaven on our parents coat-tails.” And that is true. Just because my parents were faithful to God is no guarantee that I will get to heaven. I too must be faithful! But those who have gone before us have paved the way for us. We are building on the foundations they have helped to form. Paul in 1 Corinthians 3: 10 wrote, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.”
d. Through the centuries since the church was established we have been greatly influenced by people such as Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley and so many others. So, we are following in the footsteps of spiritual heroes as we move ahead with Christ.
II. WE MUST BE SPIRITUALLY PREPARED AS WE MOVE AHEAD.
a. Hebrews 12:1 continues: “…Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles…” Doesn’t this sound very much like the words of Joshua: “Consecrate yourselves…”?Those Israelites in Joshua’s day were ordered to get rid of any idols (false gods) in their possession, They were to wash themselves and put on clean clothes, and refrain from anything that would take their attention off God.
b. I remember back in my Junior High and High School days when I played on the football teams. On game day the coach stressed that we were to focus our attention on the game plan and not be goofing off and focusing on girls and such. I can imagine that for the next week the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots will be almost totally focused on the game plans for the Super Bowl.
c. And this passage in Hebrews is telling us that we should make sure that we are not sidetracked from our spiritual journey by those things that are non-essential or that are detrimental to our spiritual condition.
d. Remember the instructions Jesus gave his disciples just before He ascended into heaven? He told them to “Tarry in Jerusalem until they received the promise of the Father—the Holy Spirit.” (See Acts 1:1-4). And then, only after they were baptized with the Holy Spirit, they were to be His witnesses—carry His message of Salvation—to the entire world! (See Acts 1:8).
e. Too often, people seem to think that when they confess their sins and accept Jesus as their Savior, they have arrived. But this passage in Hebrews 12 reminds us that getting our sins forgiven and cleansed and having our hearts made pure is just the beginning of the spiritual journey. If we remain at the starting gate, we will never complete the race!
f. Failure to take care of selfishness and allowing sin to entangle them was exactly what Paul was referring to when he wrote to the Corinthians, saying, “…I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? …” (1 Corinthians 3: 1-3).
g. So, Paul and Joshua are in agreement here: We must “Consecrate ourselves” by “…throwing off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”
III. WE ACCOMPLISH OUR GOAL BY KEEPING FOCUSED ON JESUS.
a. “Fixing your eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…” (Hebrews 12: 2a).
b. When I think about this statement, my mind goes to that scene recorded in Matthew 14:22-33 where Jesus comes to the disciples walking on the water. When Peter sees Him, he says, “If you are really Jesus, let me come to you. “And Jesus tells him to come. Then we read in verses 29 & 30, “…Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” He did just fine until he took his eyes off Jesus and began to look at the storm tossed sea around him. You see the parallel, don’t you? Whenever we take our focus off Jesus we see the impossibilities of continuing on. There are all kinds of obstacles before us. All around us there is hurting humanity: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and many more physical maladies that can kill us. We see on the news school shootings, mass murders, human cruelties, child abuse, sex slaves, pedophiles, and all kinds of evil. Our physical world is constantly being buffeted by earthquakes, tornadoes, fires, mudslides, floods and such… We come up against astronomical expenses with everything we think we want to do. The cares of this life can be overwhelming. In the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 1-23, Jesus said that the seeds that sprouted up but had no root system and the plants that were choked out by the thorns and weeds represented those who start the spiritual journey but give up because of the cares of this life and greed and self-centeredness.
c. And as a boy raised on a farm, I learned by experience that in order to plant a straight row, you had to keep your eye fixed on a stationary point ahead of you.
d. And in our Christian life, if we are going to keep moving in the right direction, we must keep our eyes “fixed on Jesus.” Otherwise we will be distracted and drift off course.
IIII. THOSE ON THE JOURNEY WILL BE DISCIPLINED BY THE FATHER.
a. Hebrews 12:7 says, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?”
b. I know of no place in the scripture that would suggest that living a Christian life is easy. Jesus in John 15: 18-21, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me…” Then in John 16:33 Jesus said, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” In this passage in Hebrews 12, verse 4 says, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” The implication is that it may be necessary to shed blood because of your faith in Christ and resistance to Sin and Satan. In 1 Corinthians 9: 24-27 Paul wrote, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
c. The Scriptures are full of examples of God’s people enduring hardship in order to fulfill their mission. Remember Joseph in the Old Testament. Before he became a ruler in Egypt, he was a slave and a prisoner. And before King David was a king, he was forced to live in exile because he was being pursued by Saul who was determined to kill David. And all the evidence suggests that Mary had to live a life being falsely accused and humiliated before she gave birth to Jesus. And Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 wrote, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the trouble we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raised the dead.”
d. These are just a few samples of the many places in the scriptures that remind us that we are not promised easy living. Rather, we will be faced with struggles and hardships and resistance and even hostility because of our allegiance to Christ.
e. And God the Father uses these hardships to mold us and shape us into the image of Christ. In Hebrews 2:10 we are told, “In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the Pioneer of their salvation perfect through what He suffered.” And it is through enduring the trials and tribulations of life that we learn to trust God and move towards spiritual maturity. If Jesus was made perfect through suffering, how much more important that we are made stronger through the hardships we face!
V. OUR CHALLENGE…
a. So, here is the challenge: We are all called to take up our cross daily and follow Jesus. We are all called to be holy, because God is holy. We are all called to live in the Spirit, walk in the Spirit, and keep step with the Spirit. We are all called to be witnesses for Jesus to all the world. So, how can we possibly be successful on this journey? How can we live our lives this way? The answer is found in those first 2 verses in Hebrews 12: “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, fixing your eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…”