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Holy Sweat - Part 11

Exercising to become like Jesus

Pastor Gary Buchman
Emmitsburg Community Bible Church

(10/11) I can still remember entering the 9th grade and being in high school. And as I loved sports, I loved Phys. Ed. Well, I loved most of it. I didnít like it when we were introduced to wrestling and it wasnít the WWF. I didnít care for that or that much personal contact with another guy. And at first I didnít like being introduced to cross country running. Iím not sure how long it was, but as there was no ball to catch or throw, it seemed like a grueling effort for nothing. By the time we crossed the finished line, our legs would ache, our lungs would burn, and it was not fun.

I then learned that there was a tougher run than cross country called, a marathon. It is 26 miles, 385 yards long. The event was instituted in commemoration of the fabled run of the Greek soldier Pheidippides, a messenger from the Battle of Marathon to Athens.

But there is a still tougher race called the Ironman Triathlon. It includes a swim of 2.4 miles, a bike ride of 112 miles, and a marathon run of 26.219 miles. Can you imagine people doing that?

I recently learned that there is still tougher competition done every year in Australia. It is an ultra-marathon. It is a footrace of 543.7 miles from one shopping mall in Sydney to another mall in Melbourne. It used to take runners 7 days to complete this race, running or jogging 18 hours a day and sleeping or resting 6. The athletes are typically less than 30 years old and backed by large companies such as Nike.

In 1983, a man named Cliff Young showed up at the start of this race. Cliff was a 61 year old potato farmer and wore overalls and gum boots. To everyone's shock, Cliff wasn't a spectator. He picked up his race number and joined the other runners. Everyone shook their heads and no one imagined he had the slightest chance of ever finishing. However, Cliff Young not only finished, but at age 61, he won the race, setting a new record of 5 days and 15 hours, and was almost 10 full hours ahead of the guy who finished second.

How did He do it? He ran for several days without stopping and when he did stop, it was for only 2 hours of rest or sleep and not six like the other runners. He started out like the tortoise in the story of the tortoise and the hare. He did a slow but steady jog or shuffle of his feet and started out last and when questioned as to how he did it, he said this. "I grew up on a farm where we couldn't afford horses or tractors, and the whole time I was growing up, whenever the storms would roll in, I'd have to go out and round up the sheep. We had 2,000 sheep on 2,000 acres. Sometimes I would have to run those sheep for two or three days. It took a long time, but I'd always catch them." Cliff Young finished and won one of the most grueling races of endurance in the world. He was able to complete the race because he had been in training, howbeit unintentionally, all his life.

There may be even tougher races out there but these serve as good illustrations of our text and subject for today. Look at Hebrews 12:1. The key phrase is, "let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." Do you see that word, race? It is a picture of the life we are called to live as we follow Jesus. It is not a sprint. It is not a fun run. The Greek word for race here is A-G-O-N. We simply put a Y on the end of that and make the word, agony. It is not a 100 yard dash, where you run as fast as you can for a few seconds or even a few minutes. This is a hard and grueling race like a marathon, triathlon, or an ultra-marathon.

John Ortberg, in his book, The Life You Always Wanted, describes several phases that runners go through as they run a marathon. The first, is the pleasure phase. Running is fun, your lungs are expanding, your heart is pumping, and everything is well in the worldÖ. How long this stage lasts depends on the condition of the runner. The second phase is drudgery. After drudgery it becomes effortful and laborious. And if you keep going long enough you reach the point when the temptation to stop is overwhelming. Your feet are protesting vigorously, knives of pain are stabbing through your calves, your lungs have burning coals at the bottom of them. Runners refer to this experience as, "hitting the wall." "To run at this stage Ė to hit the wall and keep going is the ultimate tests of a runner. Races are run or lost, completed or abandoned, at the wall." (p. 209, Zondervan)

I shared all of that because the author of Hebrews and the Apostle Paul both use this agon Ė race as a picture of the lives we live as believers, from the time we are born again until we die. We began with the fun stage. It may not have been real fun, but it was pleasurable as we learned of Jesusí love for us and how He demonstrated that love when He died on a cross for us and then rose again. We received His gift of grace and experienced His forgiveness and mercy. Then, we discovered the awesome promises of God, and we began to understand His word and His will for us. Reading our Bibles, learning how to pray, and worshipping God was good. But then the fun became routine and the drudgery stage began. We noticed that our spiritual exercises became a little laborious. We didnít always want to go to church or read our Bibles or have a quiet time. The pressures of life, the trials we face, have made life seem harder. Some of you may be at this stage now. Maybe some of you are at the stage where you are tired and you are tempted to stop. Maybe some of you are at the wall, now. There is tremendous pain, anxiety, pressure, and you donít know if you can take anymore. It hurts too much to keep going. You want to quit.

 

I. The Hebrew Christians

Thatís where the Hebrew Christians were. They had hit the wall. Probably being persecuted both from the Romans, as well as by their own Jewish families and community leaders for forsaking Moses for Jesus. The Christian life had become a lot harder than they anticipated and the temptation to quit was overwhelming. The author of this epistle wrote this letter to encourage them to hang in there. Letís pick up with Hebrews 10:32ff., 32 But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: 33 partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; 34 for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. 35 Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:

37 "For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry.

38 Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him." 39 But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.

Chapter 11 then describes faith for us and gives us a list of examples of men and women who endured and finished well because of their faith. It ends with these words: 39 "And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, 40 God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us."

Chapter 12:1-3, "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, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls." Guys, donít quit! Hang in there! It will be worth it all.

II. That word, Endurance,

is what we want to focus on. Hupomeno is the Greek. Hupo is a prefix meaning down upon or under, and meno, means to abide, or to dwell. To abide under, came to mean, the ability to live or to bear up under pressure. It is translated sometimes as endurance and sometimes as patience. Here is how James uses it. " My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothingÖ 12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." (James 1:2-4, 12) By the way, the words, testing, trials, and temptation are all the same word. They are all situations requiring a response, or decision. They are situations where your character, conduct, and integrity are on the line with how you respond.

III. Encouragement to Endure from Hebrews 10-12

So, how can we finish well? How can we finish the race when we feel like we have hit the wall? The author of Hebrews gives us a few suggestions.

A. Pause and remember that the life of a Christ-Follower is a life lived by faith (10:38). The author uses this from Habakkuk 2:4. "Now the just shall live by faith." He then goes on to describe for us what faith is. This is not a definition, but a description. 11:1 says, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." That word substance means assurance. Some of your Bibles may even have that word. The word, evidence, means conviction. I know what God has promised and I am convinced beyond any doubt of its reality. Itís not blind, and itís not wishful thinking. It is a conviction based on evidence. That evidence is the integrity of the Bible and the truth about the person and work of Jesus Christ. That has been the point of this whole letter to the Hebrews. Look at verse 6. "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." Two things here.

1) I believe God is God. He is the Creator, the Savior, and Lord of all. This is His world and I am a guest. I believe He has adopted me in Christ and has a plan for my life. I did just evolve out of nothingness, or from a monkey, I am a special creation of an all-powerful, all-wise, and everywhere present God.

2) I believe He has a better future prepared for me. The trials that I go through here will be worth it when it is all over as I follow Him. Jesus does have a prepared and reserved place for me. He does have a crown as Pater, Paul and James all remind us, and the reward will be worth the pain.

B. Remember that you are not the only one who has ever run this agonizing race. Thatís the reason for chapter 11. We often call this the Faith Heroes Hall of Fame. But the truth is, that the author chose these people to demonstrate his point. These all believed in God, they all obeyed God because they trusted Him. And they all looked to their future rewards, instead of instant gratification or relief from their pain. Every one of them said, "I know God has a plan even when I donít understand." Go back and read this chapter and notice where their focus was. It was on what they couldnít see but were convinced that it existed. 12:1 says, "Therefore, we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses." I donít think this means that they are looking down from heaven and watching us, though they could be. I think this means that their lives serve as a testimony to us to encourage us to keep on keeping on bearing up under the pressure, because it will be worth it all.

For some, getting a driverís license or completing college or making it through military basic training is scary. What if I fail? What if I donít make the grade? But the lives of millions of drivers, college graduates, and soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines say, if they can do it, so can you. Thatís what Hebrews is saying. These were not supermen, they didnít come from another planet. They had no mutant genes, or magic rings. They were ordinary people who stood up under extraordinary pressure, because they believed God and banked on a better future.

C. Remember that you have something they didnít have. (11:39-40) And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, 40 God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. You are the recipients of the New Covenant.

You have the permanent presence of the Holy Spirit. You have the unconditional promises of God. All of those in chapter 11 were under a conditional covenant. They knew that Godís promises were based on what they did or didnít do. But the New Covenant is based on Godís word alone. Jew and Gentile alike who believe in and follow Jesus are the adopted sons and daughters of the Father of the Universe. He has placed His Holy Spirit in us forever. He has written His laws on our hearts. God is pledged to my welfare.

D. Review your present circumstances. Two things here:

1) Everyone knows that runners will remove any extra pounds of body weight, and wear only enough clothing to be morally descent. Some say that racers in Paulís time ran naked. That which weighs us down isnít always bad things. It just might not be the best things. It could be your hobbies, phones, computers, TV, or something that consumes your thoughts, fears, anxieties, etc. It needs to go. Jesus said this about some of our hearts in the parable of the sower and the seed, "Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity." (Luke 8:14)

2) There may be a sin that is causing you to want to quit. The Author of Hebrews was probably referring to the sin of unbelief, or maybe, doubt. I just am not sure that God can be trusted or that God even exists, or that His promises are true. That makes sense in light of 11:6. How do you lay that doubt or unbelief aside? You look at Jesus. He was a real person that died on a real cross, and was buried in a real grave that is now really empty with no logical explanation for being empty except Jesus rose again. Then you look at the integrity of the Bible. It is absolutely true. I look at creation (11:3) and know that intelligence and order came not from a cosmic belch of gas but from an intelligent designer and I believe that the one who designed the universe loves and cares about me.

E. Look back at Jesus (12:2-3) "looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls." I canít explain it but the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane sounds like Jesus would have liked to quit, but He didnít. The reason He didnít was because of what He knew was on the other side of the pain. There was joy to be anticipated. Isnít that what James says? Consider, ponder, and anticipate the joy when you are going through trials of all sizes and shapes. Jesus did. He knew Satanís fate would be sealed. Sins would be paid for. Heaven would be secured for all believers. A family would be formed. Angels would rejoicing. A Father would be honored, and His glory would be restored. Jesus endured the cross because of the expected joy at the finish line and beyond. V. 3 Consider-Ponder Ė Mediate on Him and how He endured.

F. Focus on the finish line. The old hymn, Glory for Me, says:

When all my labors and trials are oíer, And I am safe on that beautiful shore, Just to be near the dear Lord I adore, Will through the ages be glory for me.

Refrain: Oh, that will be glory for me, Glory for me, glory for me, When by His grace I shall look on His face, That will be glory, be glory for me.

To hear, "Well done, hereís your crown, welcome to your new home. Let me touch your face with my hands. Look at my face, and touch my scars. I did this because I love you, and here are your loved ones. Mom and dad, and others."

G. Remember God has a plan even when I donít understand. 12:4-11. I know that we usually think of the word chastening as punishment and sometimes even in this context it refers to some of that. But the meaning of the word is training. Read these verses and substitute the word training for chastening. Parents train their children to become mature and independent adults. Even the punitive discipline we receive is to help us mature and do right. Godís plan is a good one and is one of love. Compare this to James 1:2-4 and Romans 8:28-29 and we see that God is training us to be mature, strong and like Jesus. The training is hard, but God has a good plan.

H. Exercise daily (12:12-13) This is spiritual therapy and you need it to be strong.

I. Pursue Peace and Holiness, instead of bitterness. (12:14-15). If life is hard and so often we want to blame people or blame God for our pain and sometimes we withdraw from people and/or from God. Resist that. Joseph did and God blessed Him. Draw closer to God, forgive and grace people and the pain wonít seem as intense, and you will feel the pleasure of God.

J. Resist temporary fixes (12:16-17), they only lead to greater disappointment. Just ask Adam and Eve, or Esau. A piece of fruit, drugs, alcohol, sex, a bowl of soup, or dropping out may seem like a fix for a moment; it may dull the pain for a time, but it doesnít last and the consequences are far greater. Donít quit!

Letís pray about it.

If this life lesson has challenged, encouraged or helped you, let me know, or if you have any questions, write to me at pastorgarybuchman@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you. (p.s. I wonít put you on a mailing list or ask you for money). It would encourage me to know that you were encouraged.

Read other thoughtful writings by Pastor Gary Buchman