Hebrews 12 - Part 1 Running the race

SERMON TOPIC: Hebrews 12 - Part 1 - Running the race

Speaker: Gavin Paynter

Language: ENGLISH

Date: 30 March 2014


Sermon synopsis: Hebrews 12:1 (NIV) 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.

Heb 12:1 (NKJV) Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.

The Christian life is compared to a race, which we need to run. But how do we run the race?
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Hebrews 12 - Part 1

In Hebrews 1 we saw that Jesus is not just a prophet - but greater than the prophets.



We then saw that Jesus, the Son of God, is not an angel - but greater than the angels.



In Hebrews 3 we saw that Jesus is greater than Moses, the mediator of the Old Covenant (Testament).



In Hebrews 4 we saw that Jesus is greater than Joshua, because through him we enter the true rest (from works).



In Hebrews 5-7 we saw that Jesus is greater than Aaron, because he has a better priesthood.



In Hebrews 5-7 we also saw that Jesus is greater than Abraham.



In Heb 8-10 we saw that Jesus was mediator of a better covenant, offering a better sacrifice in a better sanctuary.



In Hebrews 11 we saw that we have better grounds for having faith in God than those in the Old Covenant.



Heb 11:16 Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Heb 12:22-23 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.



Hebrews 12:1 … And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…

The Christian life is compared to a race, which we need to run. But how do we run the race?

We take encouragement from and emulate those who have run the race before us.

Those who participate in a sport often study the past heroes to learn from them and to emulate their techniques.

Romans 15:4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.


Nearly every nation has monuments to its fallen soldiers and a day to remember those who died fighting for their country. Whether or not we agree with their ideals, we do well to ponder their courage and sacrifice. Hebrews 11 lists a number of heroes who lived and died courageously “by faith.” Near the end of the chapter, the list changes from the names of individuals to groups of believers whose experiences ranged from miraculous deliverance to torture and death because they refused to compromise their faith in God. 1

1 preceptaustin.org/ hebrews_12_sermon_illustrations.htm


After listing the “faith heroes” in Hebrews 11, the author then stresses that these faith heroes were also faithful in extremely difficult times. The readers are then encouraged to imitate the example of these faithful men and women, as well as our ultimate example - Jesus. Despite the hardships they were encountering - they should persevere and complete the race they had begun.


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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before him he 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 sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.


Q: Who are the “witnesses”?

A: The heroes of the faith listed in the previous chapter.

This passage doesn’t mean that the saints of the past and Christians who die, watch the believers who are alive today. Some imagine the dead saints as spectators in a stadium where we as Christians are running a race. So even your loved ones who have passed on, are looking down and watching you. While this might be a great motivation for you to run well, it is not what the passage is teaching. Rather it is the record of the lives which faithful men lived, found in the Scriptures and church history, which are the “witnesses” to us. As we recall the examples of these men and women, we realise that like them, we too can run a good race and finish well - despite the problems and trials we may face.


Dress for the occasion (lay aside hindrances)

Hebrews 12:1-2 … 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…

No serious athlete would run a race in a trench coat and army boots, while carrying a haversack with rocks in it.

Get rid of those things in your life that hinder your race.

Get rid of the sin that entangles you while you’re trying to run.


In days past hot air balloons used sandbags to weigh them down and keep them on the ground. At lift-off sand was gradually released in order that the balloon might increase its altitude.

The same analogy can be used of sin. It will weigh us down and prevent us from rising to great heights in our Christian life and hinder us in the race we run. We need to dump the sand bags of sin that drag us down, by cutting all the ties that attach it to our lives.


In 1845, the ill-fated Franklin Expedition sailed from England to find a passage across the Arctic Ocean. The crew loaded their two sailing ships with a lot of things they didn’t need: a 1,200- volume library, fine china, crystal goblets, and sterling silverware for each officer with his initials engraved on the handles. Amazingly, each ship took only a 12-day supply of coal for their auxiliary steam engines. 1

1 David C. Egner http:// odb.org/ 2005/ 07/ 02/ foolish-baggage/


Sir John Franklin (1786 – 1847)

The ships became trapped in vast frozen plains of ice. After several months, Lord Franklin died. The men decided to trek to safety in small groups, but none of them survived. One story is especially heartbreaking. Two officers pulled a large sled more than 65 miles across the treacherous ice. When rescuers found their bodies, they discovered that the sled was filled with table silver. Those men contributed to their own demise by carrying what they didn’t need. But don’t we sometimes do the same? Don’t we drag baggage through life that we don’t need? Evil thoughts that hinder us. Bad habits that drag us down. Grudges that we won’t let go. Let’s determine to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us” (Hebrews 12:1). 1

1 Ibid


Monkeys are said to have been caught in the following way in parts of Africa and Asia. A coconut is hollowed out and attached by a rope to a tree or stake in the ground. A small hole is made at the bottom of the coconut and some sweet food placed inside. The hole is just big enough for the monkey to slip in his open hand, but too small to allow its closed fist to pass out.

A passing monkey will smell the food and puts its hand through the hole to grasp it. But then it is unable to withdraw it’s clenched fist which won’t fit through the opening.


When the hunter comes, the frantic monkey cannot get away. Despite the fact that nobody is actually keeping the monkey captive, it is held by the force of its own attachment. All that it has to do is to open its hand and release the food. But its greed is so strong that very rarely will the monkey let go of the food and escape.

Sometimes the desires and lusts in our souls keep us trapped. All we need do is open our hands and let go of them, and we would be free.

What is it in your life that you are holding on to that is holding you captive? What is your greed refusing to release ? Isn’t it time to let go of it? Sometimes simply letting go is the best way to be set free from something.


Be disciplined - observe strict training

1 Cor 9:25 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.

Discipline is not easy, but it produces positive results. Athletes often give up certain privileges and have a strict diet and exercise routine, in order to excel at their sport.

We too need to be disciplined – we must pray, read and continually apply God’s Word to our lives, witness, fellowship and worship.


Part of discipline is to discount any pain:

1 Cor 9:26-27 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly… No, I beat my body and make it my slave

Acts 20:22-24 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”


Don’t look back:

Remember Lot’s wife and don’t look back. You cannot make progress spiritually if you look back.


In 1954, John Landy became the second man to run the mile in under 4 minutes breaking the record just set by Roger Bannister. On 7 Aug 1954, Bannister and Landy met for a historic race.

As they moved into the last lap, Landy held the lead. It looked as if he would win, but as he neared the finish he was haunted by the question, “Where is Bannister?” 1 On the final turn of the last lap, as Landy looked over his left shoulder, Bannister passed him on the right. 2

1 " preceptaustin.org/ hebrews_12_sermon_illustrations.htm"> preceptaustin.org/ hebrews_12_sermon_illustrations.htm 2 "http:// en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/ John_Landy">http:// en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/ John_Landy


Landy later told a Time magazine reporter, “If I hadn’t looked back, I would have won!” 1


A bronze sculpture of the two men at this moment was created by Jack Harman and stood for many years at the entrance to Empire Stadium in Vancouver.

Landy quipped that “While Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back, I am probably the only one ever turned into bronze for looking back.” 2 1 " preceptaustin.org/ %0Bhebrews_12_sermon_illustrations.htm"> preceptaustin.org/ hebrews_12_sermon_illustrations.htm 2 http:// en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/ John_Landy

Forget your past failures and concentrate on the present.

Phil 3:13-14 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.

Rom 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…


Don’t let anyone or anything hinder your race.

Gal 5:7 You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? (NASB)

What hindered the Galatians? It was LEGALISM. After being saved by grace (and running well), they got caught up in legalism (which hindered their race).

Running is a sport where you require lightweight unrestrictive clothing. Women don’t run in high heel shoes and evening gowns. Men don’t jog in long pants while carrying a fully packed haversack.


On the other hand prisoners or slaves are transported in chains because their captors don’t want them to be able to run very fast and to escape.

Legalism is like having chains which keep you from running well in the freedom that is yours in Christ.

Gal 5:1,4 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery… You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.



Causes division

Demotes Jesus and grace

Promotes self-righteousness

Gal 3:3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?


Compete according to the rules and don’t get disqualified.

2 Tim 2:3-5 Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.

What will disqualify you?

False humility and heresy

Col 2:18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize.


Being a hypocrite – preaching to others while not applying the same principles to your life.

1 Cor 9:26-27 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.


The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. (Matt 23:2-3)

Don’t take a wrong turn (you need the truth)

Truth is more important than sincerity. You can be sincerely wrong. Francis Bacon said, “A cripple on the right way will beat a racer on the wrong one. The faster the runner is, who has at some point missed his way, the further he goes wrong.”


If you take a wrong turn and have gone into error (false doctrine) you will be running in vain.

Gal 2:2 I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain.

Q: How can we ensure that we don’t take a wrong turn?


You need to “run … the race marked out for us… (Heb 12:2).

The race is “marked out for us”. The writer of Hebrews compares our race to one with clearly marked lanes and an easily identifiable finish line. We did not select the course, but it is God who demarcated the path in his Word.


You need to “run … the race … fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Heb 12:2).

Leslie Dunkin told about a dog he had when he was a boy. His father would occasionally test the dog’s obedience. He would place a tempting piece of meat on the floor and give the command, “No!” The dog, who must have had a strong urge to go for the meat, was placed in a most difficult situation—to obey or disobey his master’s command. Dunkin said, “The dog never looked at the meat. He seemed to feel that if he did, the temptation to disobey would be too great. So he looked steadily at my father’s face.” Dunkin then made this spiritual application: “There is a lesson for us all. Always look up to the Master’s face.” 1

1 Richard De Haan http:// odb.org/ 2003/ 07/ 25/ looking-to-jesus/


From the booklet Bits and Pieces comes an interesting story about Florence Chadwick, the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions. On the Fourth of July in 1951, she attempted to swim from Catalina Island to the California coast. The challenge was not so much the distance, but the bone-chilling waters of the Pacific. 1

1 Our Daily Bread, October 26


Florence Chadwick (1918 – 1995)

To complicate matters, a dense fog lay over the entire area, making it impossible for her to see land. After about 15 hours in the water, and within a half mile of her goal, Chadwick gave up. Later she told a reporter, “Look, I’m not excusing myself. But if I could have seen land, I might have made it.” Not long afterward she attempted the feat again. Once more a misty veil obscured the coastline and she couldn’t see the shore. But this time she made it because she kept reminding herself that land was there. With that confidence she bravely swam on and achieved her goal. In fact, she broke the men’s record by 2 hours! 1

1 Ibid


Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who was sent to Nazi concentration camps for sheltering Jews in the Holocaust. The camps were places where most people lost hope. But her faith in God helped to sustain her, despite the horrors she witnessed. After her release she said, “If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. But if you look at Christ, you’ll be at rest.”


Corrie ten Boom (1892 – 1983)

So what are we looking at?

Are we focusing on the world and all its problems?

Are we looking to ourselves, expecting to find our own answers?

Or are we “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith”? (Heb 12:2).


Who is not inspired by the competitor who makes a comeback after being down and seemingly out of the running! The runner who stumbles while coming off the starting blocks but moves gradually into the lead stirs the imagination of us all. The team that can come from behind in the last moments to win excites us even more than the team that constantly wins by scoring big in the first part of the game.

Jesus made the most amazing comeback the world has ever seen. After being humiliated, insulted, spit upon, whipped, beaten, and nailed to a cross, His executioners claimed victory and declared Him dead. A military guard secured His tomb. How could anyone be more down and out than that? 1

1 Mart De Haan http:// odb.org/ 2006/ 04/ 16/ the-great-overcomer/


Yet the struggle was not over; it was only the beginning. Three days later, He rose from the grave and reappeared as the victor over sin, death, and hell—a comeback like no other in all of history. Are you feeling out of the running today? Have you stumbled badly? Think about Jesus’ suffering. Ponder His resurrection. Ask Him to give you the victory. Just imagine what He has to offer you, no matter how far down you are now! 1

1 Ibid


J. David Branon relates: “My son Steven is just beginning to learn the game of soccer. So we spend quite a bit of time kicking the ball around in the front yard. As I’ve tried to convey to Steven the little I know about the sport, he has developed some of his own strategy. For instance, he said, ‘I know how to get past my man. When I’m dribbling the ball, I can say, “Hey, look over there!” When he does, I can dribble past him!’ 1

1 OUR DAILY BREAD, Thurs., July 13, 1995


As simplistic as this strategy of distraction sounds, it’s similar to a scheme Satan uses on Christians --and it works. He has developed hundreds of ways to say, “Hey, look over there!” All he has to do is distract us, and he has us doing something other than glorifying God. 1

1 Ibid


>>DISTRACTIONS<< >>DISTRACTIONS<< Crime, Finances, Celebrities, Sport, Entertainment, Politics, Tec >>DISTRACTIONS<<>>DISTRACTIONS<< Technology, Materialism, Crime, Finances, Celebrities, Sport, E >>DISTRACTIONS<<>>DISTRACTIONS<< Politics, Technology, Materialism, Crime, Finances, Celebrities,

Paul says that part of his disciplined life was to have purpose in his activity.

1 Cor 9:26 (NLT) So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing.

Motivation: We should be highly motivated.

William Carey said, “Expect great things; attempt great things.” To Hudson Taylor there was “no dream that must not be dared”.

Goal-oriented activity: We too need to have ordered lives and to plan activities in order to attain spiritual goals.

Without goals and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.


Run the race to win

1 Cor 9:24 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.

We need to be committed to excellence.


Striving to be the very best we can be, to rise above circumstances to achieve our goals, are marks of a winner. When we’re committed to excellence, it means we’ll push ourselves a little more, even when muscles scream, breathing hurts, and the opposition fights valiantly. 1

Paul wanted the Philippians to respond to his ministry by becoming “blameless and pure”, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation” (Phil 2:15) so that he was not running his race for nothing:

Phil 2:16 as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labour for nothing.

1 runtowin.faithsite.com/ content.asp?SID=808&CID=54537


Run with perseverance

Hebrews 12:2 … And let us run with perseverance the race…

John Stephen Akhwari was a Tanzanian marathon runner who finished last at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

At the 19 km point during the 42 km race, there was jockeying for position between some runners and he was hit. He fell, badly wounding his knee and dislocated that joint, plus his shoulder hit hard against the pavement. He however continued running, finishing last among the 57 competitors who completed the race (75 had started). 1

Akhwari finished the race over an hour after the winner.

1 http:// en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/ John_Stephen_Akhwari


There were only a few thousand people left in the stadium, and the sun had already set.

When interviewed later and asked why he continued running, he said, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.” 2

We need the same attitude that Akhwari had. We too have a race we have been instructed to run - and we are to persevere and keep on running until we “finish the race”.

1 Ibid


John Stephen Akhwari - a great example of perseverance

As an example of perseverance, remember that many of the greatest missionaries preached faithfully for years before seeing any results. Adoniram Judson waited 6 years for his first convert in Burma, while William Carey toiled for 7 years in India before his first Hindu convert. It took 15 years for the Māori in New Zealand to begin converting to Christianity before it spread widely in the 1830s. Henry Nott did not see his first convert until he had been in Tahiti for 22 years.


Don’t give up until you cross the line and finish the race

Acts 20:24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.


Remember that it’s not how you start the race that matters, but how you finish.

2 Tim 4:6-7 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.


At the end of the race there is a prize.

Phil 3:13-14 But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.

1 Cor 9:25 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.

Eph 6:8 because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does


2 Tim 4:8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.


Maybe you got off to a bad start – it’s not too late to make sure you finish well.

Lord, give us endurance as we run this race of life. Help us not to wallow in past failures, but to be disciplined and to shun sinful ways. May we fix our eyes on the eternal goal set before us and keep looking unto Jesus. - Henry G. Bosch 1

1 http:// odb.org/ 1995/ 08/ 07/ winning-the-race/



Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations are taken from the NIV:

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB:

New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission. ( Lockman.org)

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