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Hebrews 12:1-12:29
Key Verse: 12:2

At Christmas time, we thought of Jesus as Immanuel, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, a shoot from the stump of Jesee, the King of Peace and a signal for the whole world, and the Shepherd King and the object of our worship. According to Jesus, he himself is the focal point of the Bible (Jn 5:39). In 2015 we all struggled to live a life of faith based on Hebrew 11:6 as our chapter key verse, to seek God earnestly and please him with faith. There were pleasant times and we thank God for all his grace upon us. They were also difficult times and crisis of faith individually and ministry-wise. Yet, God’s help in his mercy and grace was evident for his dearly loved children (Eph 5:1) in those times. Now anticipating the New Year, 2016, we want to hold to Hebrews 12:2 as our Toronto UBF key verse. We want more and more to be focused on Jesus in our life journey in 2016. Especially when we think of the world, which is changing, so rapidly changing becoming all the more relativistic secular with the truth of God apparently throwing down to the ground, we need to fix our eyes on Jesus. Also, when we think of our lives that “our days….quickly pass and we fly away” (Ps 90:10), we need this direction. We ask God for his rich blessing on this direction. In studying Hebrews 12, we want to think of why and how to fix our eyes on Jesus dividing this passage in three parts, the race of faith, the meaning of hardship and the blessings in Christ Jesus.

First, the race of faith (1-4). Look at verse 1. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” In chapter 11 it is recorded how the ancients (ancestors, people of old) lived a life of faith. There were evidences of faith in their lives, and they were heroes and heroines of faith. They were not just several but many. From time to time when we have difficulties in our life of faith, we question, “Why me?” We feel that I am alone in this journey of faith in the world. Most probably, at the time this epistle of Hebrews was written many early suffering Christians felt that way. Yet, the writer said, “…we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.” In the Old Testament cloud often represents God’s appearing. When the author used this expression, he wanted the readers to know that although the ancients were dead physically, they are living in heaven and they are cheering us on as witnesses. Their cheering presence is as vivid as the cloud in the sky. Again, they are witness, not spectators. The word “witness” is from the same Greek word as “martyr.” They are encouraging and cheering us on with life-giving spirit as witnesses for Christ. They are witnessing that God is living and he rewards those who live by faith and they have the assurance of salvation. The weight of their witness is so heavy, that it is almost impossible to deny or and give up life of faith. Often we feel overwhelmed by the fact that we are surrounded by unbelieving people. But God wants us to know that in truth we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses of our lives of faith, more witnesses that 1st century early Christians were. Even in our age we see many wonderful Christians who are ready to give their lives for Christ out of love for him. Being surrounded by the great cloud of such witnesses, we can not only keep our faith but also be witnesses of faith for the people in this generation and in generations to come.

Then verse 1 says continually, “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin so easily entangles…” It is a common sense that a runner should run as light as possible. No one can run with heavy jackets and boots and even with a backpack. Runners run with shorts and running shoes. According to MSG, “No extra spiritual fat.” Running light is compared to pruning in Jesus’ teaching about the vine and the branches (Jn 15:1-4). Fruit-bearing requires cutting off unnecessary, useless, and trivial branches from the main ones. We need to throw off all kinds of worries and unnecessary interactions and make our life as simple as possible. Good students know how to study well, throwing off everything that hinders their study. They get rid of all distractions to study most effectively. To them time management and concentration are crucial. The same thing can be applied to good Christian runners.

Particularly sin makes our life complicated. It is easy to rationalize sin. Then our life is more complicated and entangled (intertwined and knotted). Some carry their unsolved life problem, that is, sin problem, throughout their lives. Strictly speaking, sin problem is the problem between God and me; no other part is involved. Simple repentance before God makes our life simple and straightforward, set in level paths.

Look at verse 1b. “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Marathoners reach a moment when they want to give up the running. They call it “hitting the wall.” It is the very time for them to run with perseverance and finish the race. In our Christian life there are such moments, especially when we face incomprehensive sufferings. But to God such sufferings are necessary. According to Romans 5:3,4 “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character.” Christian godly characters are formed through suffering and perseverance.

And we should know that there is a race marked out for us. We run together. We are encouraged by one another, as we run together. At the same, we run individually. There is a race marked for me with a very personal race course. Each person’s course of race is different, although we all run the same race of faith in this world heavenward. I cannot compare my course of running to others’. And when we look back our lives, the courses we have come through are not always the courses we have expected. It is true even when we think about our life course of this past year 2015. Some courses were too hard for us to come through. Yet God helped us in those courses. We don’t know what future course will be. Only God knows it. We don’t know what is ahead in 2016. Yet, we do know that the race marked out for us is the way of the cross and the narrow way according to the Bible. We also believe and know that God will give us strength and sufficient courage to run the course ahead. So we can run the race with perseverance of faith. And though we cannot see the future course in full view, with the eyes of faith and insight we can see the race marked out for us, when we consider how God has led us. As for me, the race marked before me is to serve the ministry of God’s word in this country beyond my human ability and capacity.

Look at verse 2. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author (or pioneer) and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning it shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” We know that the word “fix” is a strong word. It seems that nobody wants to be fixed but flexible. But in running we need a fixed point, that is, the goal. In life we need a fixed point in our hearts. Otherwise our hearts are loosened and so our lives, lost. When God gave his command to Adam, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die,” (Ge 2:16,17), God wanted Adam to have this word as the fixed point in his heart as a weak human being made out of the dust of the ground. When the fixed point was loosened in his heart, he was vulnerable and finally fell. As for Abraham, the word of God’s promise of Genesis 12:2, was the fixed point in his life to the end and through that he could come to know the eternal God and even saw Jesus who would come as his offspring (Ge 21:33; Jn 8:56). As for the Magi, when they found the star of the king of the Jews, the star became their fixed point although they lost it for a while until they could come to the baby Jesus and worshiped him. In many cases one word God can be a fixed point in our hearts. As for Martin Luther, one word of God of Roman 1:17, “The righteous will live by faith” became the word of salvation to him which lead him to Christ Jesus. The word was the fixed point in his life. Then he could have inner courage to overcome all the fear of enemies of God and finally have reformation. So he composed a song, “A Mighty Fortress is our God” in which he confessed, “One little word shall fell him (the devil).”

Having one word as a fixed point in our hearts and fixing our eyes on Jesus go together. By having a fixed point of his word in our hearts, we can fix our eyes on Jesus. We know that Jesus is the focus of the whole Scriptures. Jesus is the goal in our faith-race. Yet, he is not far away from us as the goal, but also near us as Immanuel Jesus according to his promise, “Surely I am with you always to the very end of the age” (Mt 28:20). In truth he runs with us and cheers us on most in our race of faith. In verse 2 Jesus is introduced as the author (or pioneer) and perfecter of our faith. What does this mean? Hebrews 2:10 says that God made Jesus, the author of our salvation perfect through suffering (or what he suffered). We celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus. A shoot from the stump of Jesse reminded us his humble birth, born in Bethlehem, wrapped in cloths and placed in a manger. The heavenly Prince gave up his power, glory and honour came to this world in that way. It was the beginning of our salvation. He lived the most beautiful life with righteousness as his belt and faithfulness as his sash, demonstrating God’s truth and love. But he was despised and rejected, and finally was crucified on the cross as the Lamb of God. When he breathed his last on the cross, he said, “It is finished” (Jn 19:30). In this way he completed our salvation, fulfilling all the promises of God. Jesus became our perfect Saviour, and so the author and perfecter of our faith that leads to salvation. Also, he is the one who initiated our race of faith and will bring it onto completion. As we fix our eyes on him in our race of faith, we can come to him to listen to him and to ask for his help at each time of need. He is the source of our nourishment and strength and encouragement. Through such a running of faith, we can grow up in our salvation.

Jesus is also the author (pioneer) and perfecter of the life of faith. He went ahead of us and left us the perfect example. He lived by faith from the manger to the cross. He always sought to please God. He pleased God most through the cross. Verse 2 says, “…who for the joy set before him endured the cross scoring its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus went ahead of us particularly going through the way of the cross and glory. The cross was the symbol of the greatest pain and shame and humiliation. Jesus was mocked, beaten, insulted, spit on, flogged and killed (Lk 18:31), and so treated like the worst criminal in the world. But he endured the cross, scorning its shame for the eternal joy set before him. At the time of unbearable suffering, he saw beyond the suffering. While on earth he always had joy by obeying his Father’s command remaining in his love, and had joy in doing the will of God by serving and reviving one soul after another (Jn 15:10-11; 4:34). However, what was the joy he looked forward to? He looked forward to drawing all of his people including you and me to God through his sacrifice on the cross (Jn 12:32). Jesus also looked forward to his resurrection, ascension, and his reunion with the Father in glory (Jn 17:5) and his flock of sheep being with him where he is and sharing his glory (Jn 17:24). Indeed he was raised from the dead and taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. We also have joy in fellowship with God and in serving God’s flock of sheep when they receive the word of God and their souls are revived. Apostle John said, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 Jn 4; 2 Jn 4). But what joy do we look forward to? Our joy and wonder will be great when we see God the Father and our Lord Jesus in glory and all the redeemed beloved ones there, where there will no more death, or mourning or crying or pain (Rev 21:4).

Our Lord Jesus wants us to follow his example that he went through the way of the cross and glory. He said in Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” What a privilege it is to follow our Lord Jesus taking up our own cross! The people of this world carry the burden of ego, which is really heavy with deep sorrow and no meaning of life. But Jesus said, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt 11:29). Taking our own cross which is the yoke and burden Jesus gives is the way to follow him participating in his remaining suffering (1 Pe 4:17) and enter into his joy and glory. Charles T. Studd (1860-1931), known as the leader of the Cambridge Seven, received the Lord’s calling at the age of 24. He disowned his future as a nationally renowned cricket player and heir of great wealth. When asked if he had made too great a sacrifice, he answered, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him.” He dedicated his life to the missions in China and India. As years went by, his love of Christ and his cross did not weaken, but rather grew stronger. Seeing an advertisement that read; “Cannibals want missionaries,” he went to central Congo at the age of 50. He dedicated the remaining 21 years of his life for people in Africa. He left a poem a part of which reads, “Only one life, yes only one, Now let me say, ‘Thy will be done’; And when at last I’ll hear the call, I know I’ll say ‘’twas worth it all’; only one life, ‘twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.” When he was nearing his departure from this world, he was full of thanks and joy.

At this time I thank God for Nicole’s confession in her testimony on the Magi that she wanted to use all God had given her in her life for Christ and his work and have nothing remain in her as she leaves this world. We believe that was the blessed and truly wise decision. May God richly bless her confession of faith! C. S. Lewis said, “All that is not eternal is eternally out of date (and useless).” When we finish our lives on earth, only three things will remain forever. The first is our Christ-like character (Mt 5:5,9). The second is what we have given to God like time and material (Mt 6:20). The third is the people who have been saved through us (Php 4:1). We need to have eternal perspective of our life which is to be lived only once and follow Jesus going through the way of the cross and glory.

And verse 3 says, “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lost heart.” When we strive to take our own cross, there is opposition, small and big. Thank God that after receiving many rejections and cancellations, finally Ian began 1:1 Bible with one student, Kelvin. May God help him to continue to overcome opposition and grow as a strong gospel servant. When Apostle Paul faced the opposition that many lived as the enemies of the cross, he was much troubled. But he warned God’s flock of sheep with tears (Php 3:18). When we fix our eyes on Jesus, we can overcome the opposition and come nearer to the cross of Jesus. Apostle Paul’s heart and life were so fixed on this Jesus that he said even in his old age, “I want to know Christ…” and he says continually, “...and the power of the resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings becoming like him in his death” (Phil 3:10).

In fixing our eyes on Jesus, our thoughts are very important. The freedom of thinking is God’s blessing given to mankind. A man of God said, “Man is a thinking reed.” But thinking freely and deeply without the word of God and Jesus is very dangerous. For the devil who is very crafty works very powerfully through various kinds of human ideas. No human intelligence can overcome that of Satan. All human pride that ignores the words of the Bible and Christ Jesus goes before destruction (Pro 16:18). Our thoughts need to be fixed and controlled, despite our freedom and privilege of thinking. Hebrews 3:1 says, “Fix your thoughts on Jesus.” Romans 8:6 says, “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” And Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We demolish arguments and every pretention that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

When our eyes and thoughts are fixed on Jesus, we can be truly free as Jesus said, “The Truth will set you free.” Definitely, the Truth is Jesus. The thought of Jesus does not bind us but free us from all bondages. And the more we meditate on Jesus, the more can we grow in Christ-like character and so the more beautiful inside and out. According to Colossians 2:3, Christ is the mystery of God, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. And when we fix our eyes on Jesus, he resolves all human problems one by one at his time and in his way; he is the key to all matters. I pray that when we fix our eyes Jesus, all our leaders be fully used for the salvation of souls in U of T through our 1:1 Bible study in this Bible house in 2016.

Look at verse 4. “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” Fixing our eyes on Jesus including fighting against sin. This is the process of sanctification. He struggled against sin to the point of shedding blood on our behalf. Jesus shed his blood when he was flogged and crucified on the cross because of our sins. God hates sin to the point of punishing his Son on the cross in our stead. In this grace we need to resist sin against the trend of the world. We see Apostle Paul’s struggle. He said, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:2), “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24), “…through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14). In this struggle we need to hold to the cross of Jesus. We should resist and fight against the sin of lust, the desire to be accepted, recognized and honoured, or unbelief and negative thoughts and fatalism to the point of shedding our blood.

Second, the meaning of hardship (5-17). Look at verse 7. “Endure hardship as discipline…” In the previous part we thought of how Jesus endured the cross and how we can endure our own cross. Here the writer of Hebrews further encourages us to endure hardship as discipline, We need a correct view of hardship. Nobody wants hardship. Yet, hardship in life is inevitable In truth it is the expression of God’s disciplining love. Hardship in life is not at random. It has a clear purpose. Look at verses 10 and 11. “…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.” Hardships in Joseph’s life carved his inner character enough to show God’s holy love to his brothers so that they could be changed and moulded into 12 patriarchs of Israel and carved his inner character to be strong enough to bear the position of Prime Minster of Egypt. Through 25 years of God’s faith training Abraham was raised as a father of many nations, and Sarah, a mother of many nations. Through 40 years of wilderness training Moses became a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth (Num 12:3). Through 13 years of God’s training David became the shepherd king for his people. Thank God for his discipline for each of his people.

Look at verses 12 and 13. “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather be healed.” In time of hardship with fatalistic human conditions it is easy to become bitter and let bitter root grow up to cause trouble and defile many. In such a time we should live by faith all the more fixing our eyes on Jesus. Then the lame can be healed and our weakness, turned to strength.

Third, the blessings in Christ Jesus (18-29). In verses 18-24 two mountains are compared, Mount Sinai, which represents law that brings fear and condemnation and death, and Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem. We can see God’s blessing Christ Jesus. In Christ Jesus we meet the living God. Through Jesus the mediator of a new covenant we have forgiveness of sins in his cleansing blood, joyful fellowship among his redeemed people in the church, and the hope of the kingdom of God. The blessing in Christ is so precious that the author wants us to really keep the blessing. All the glittering things and kingdoms of the world that are shaken will be removed and completely gone. It is obvious that only what cannot be shaken will remain. That is the kingdom of God.

Then what should be our attitude? Look at verse 28. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Because of his amazing grace we may be his thankful people and true worshippers as we live in this shakable and transitory world. All these blessings are given through Jesus.

Thank God for granting us a new year 2016. May we run the race of faith marked out for us fixing our eyes on Jesus so that we can endure our own cross and hardship and grow in Christ-like character and bear fruit that will last, following Jesus who went through the way of the cross and glory.

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