So let’s move on from the what to the how. You might be sat there right now feeling a bit overwhelmed, thinking, ‘You’ve told me that I am supposed to run the race without messing about and without letting anything get in the way and that I have to persevere till the end of the race, and if I don’t persevere to the end I’m doomed, but you actually haven’t told me how to do it and marathons are really hard and I’m not even sure it can be done.’ Well, take heart, because that’s where we are going for the rest of our time.
Great Cloud Of Witnesses
Firstly, be encouraged by the Great Cloud of Witnesses, because they show us both that the race can be run, and how to run it. Our passage starts, ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses’, referring back to Chapter 11 and the tales of the Old Testament saints. In light of this great cloud of witnesses who now surround us and cheer us on in our run, let’s read a bit of chapter 11. In fact, I’m going to read a whole chunk of chapter 11!
By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore, from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.
By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.
By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.”
This is a few of the great cloud of witnesses that now surround us and cheer us on to run the race to the end, and more importantly, they prove to us that the race can actually be run. You might be sat there thinking ‘but I am nothing like those giants of the past – I’m just an ordinary punter, and honestly I’m a bit of a disaster,’ to which I would reply, so were they.
Noah might have built the ark, but one of the first things he does after coming out of the ark is make wine and get wrecked. Abraham could be a coward, Sarah laughed in God’s face when she first heard the promise, Isaac was a bit of a jessy, Jacob was a conman, Moses was a murderer, Rahab was a hooker, Gideon needed one more sign, Barak wouldn’t do what God told him to unless Deborah went with him, Samson was a total nightmare, Jephthah made the most tragically foolish vow, David was an adulterer and a murderer.
[bctt tweet=”The only thing that made these men and women special was the God they trusted in. So take comfort from this: you may not be David, but you have David’s God.”] You see, the truth is that these giants of our faith were just as broken and screwed up as you and I. The only thing that made these men and women special was the God they trusted in. So take comfort from this: you may not be David, but you have David’s God, and truthfully, that’s all you’ll ever need. If you noticed the constantly repeated phrase of chapter 11 you learned how these old heroes ran the race: Abraham, Moses, David and everyone else who has ever run the race ran by faith, and that is how you and I are supposed to run as well.
Jesus, the founder and perfecter of faith
Turn back to our text with me. ‘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.’ Look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. I love that phrase, and you should too, because it is the gospel. Look to Jesus and away from yourself, look to him who did for you what you could never have done for yourself.
At the heart of the gospel lie some massive questions:
How can a holy, righteous God both forgive sin and judge the guilty?
How can a righteous God justify the ungodly?
How can I, a sinner, meet the standard required by a holy, righteous God?
How can I, a sinner, escape the punishment I deserve?
The answer to these questions is ‘look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith’. Look to him, he lived the perfect life you have not lived. He ran a perfect race. He met the standards that a good, holy and righteous God requires. Look to him, he died the death that you deserve, taking upon himself your sin and God’s wrath against sin and sinners. Look to him, he is raised to life and glorified, victorious over Satan, sin, death and the grave. Look to him, he has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father, and there he intercedes for you as your Great High Priest. Look to him, he is coming again to establish his Kingdom, judge the earth, punish the guilty and reward the faithful. Look to him and be sure of this (Philippians 1:6): ‘He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.’
[bctt tweet=”Our faith grabs hold on Jesus for help, because Jesus first grabbed hold on our hearts for faith. #faith #20schemes”] Look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, and draw courage, confidence and strength to run the race based on this glorious truth. Jesus doesn’t just respond to our faith with help. He is the founder, creator and author of faith, and he is the one who works to perfect the faith he creates. He works to begin it and he works to complete it. Our faith grabs hold on Jesus for help, because Jesus first grabbed hold on our hearts for faith. Look to Jesus and run.
The joy of triumph
So as we come to the end of our time in this passage, we have seen that we run the race laid before us by putting our faith and trust in Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, and by doing that we receive the strength and perseverance we need to cast off anything that gets in our way, battle sin and reach the finishing line. And it’s the finishing line where we find our final motivation to run the race, because it is there that the reward waits for us. Our passage tells us that Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before him, and like our Saviour we too should endure the hardships, battles and trials that come our way for the joy that is set before us.
In Romans 8:18 the Apostle Paul writes, ‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.’
You might have read the 20schemes statement of faith. I love the final part of that statement of faith because it reminds us of the great reward that waits for those of us who run the race.
The Restoration of All Things: We believe in the personal, glorious, and bodily return of our Lord Jesus Christ with his holy angels, when he will exercise his role as final Judge, and his kingdom will be consummated. We believe in the bodily resurrection of both the just and the unjust—the unjust to judgement and eternal conscious punishment in hell, as our Lord himself taught, and the just to eternal blessedness in the presence of him who sits on the throne and of the Lamb, in the new heaven and the new earth, the home of righteousness. On that day the Church will be presented faultless before God by the obedience, suffering and triumph of Christ, all sin purged and its wretched effects forever banished. God will be all in all and his people will be enthralled by the immediacy of his indescribable holiness, and everything will be to the praise of his glorious grace.
Guys, there is a day coming for those who persevere to the end, when we will be with Jesus in the home of righteousness, and all sin and its wretched effects will be forever banished and everything will be to the praise of God’s glorious grace. That is a prize worth running for.
I’m going to end with a quote by the Puritan Thomas Brooks, one last smart dead guy. He said this: ‘Your life is short, your duties many, your assistance great, and your reward sure; therefore, faint not, hold on and hold up, in ways of well-doing, and heaven shall make amends for all.’