Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hebrews 12:1-3 (2)

I’m glad that words like patience, and endurance and longsuffering are in the Bible. I’m glad the Word of God doesn’t lie about following God. I’m nowhere promised that running the race will be easy, instead I’m told to run with patience. To keep going. To trust in what’s to come and remember who’s gone before you.

How are we to do this? How should we run the race with patience? How we know what is helping us to run and what is hindering us? Glance down at verse two with me: Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who, for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising it’s shame and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.’ So we look at the champion. We look at Jesus. The word used for looking here means a definite looking away from everything and everyone else, and a steadfast looking at Jesus. The word implies that it is impossible to look in two directions at once, and that makes sense when we think of the race analogy. Can you imagine someone running a race and looking backwards when they ran? Of course not, they run wholeheartedly towards the line.

How does looking at Jesus help us to run? Because Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. These two words span all the activity of Jesus in regards to our faith. Jesus is the leader, it’s because of what Jesus has done that we can have a faith at all. No Jesus, no Way to God, no Truth, no Life. It is Jesus, even though He was historically after the heroes of Hebrews 11, who the author regards as the champion of their faith as well.

Jesus is presented as one who blazed the trail of faith and ran the race to its completion, perfectly. The examples of Hebrews 11 are good, but Jesus is the greatest and ultimate example. No one ever will run or has run as well as Jesus has. We see this most clearly when Jesus was on the cross, which we are reminded of half way though verse 2. The author says, Jesus endured the cross, despising it’s shame. At a distance of 2000 years and several thousand miles it can be hard to know what it looks like to endure the cross.

One commentator puts it like this: ‘to die by crucifixion was to plumb the lowest depths of disgrace, it was a punishment reserved for those deemed unfit to live, a punishment for those who were subhuman. For so degrading a death the Romans were exempt by an ancient statute, the dignity of the Roman name would be besmirched by being brought into association with anything as vile as a cross. For slaves and criminals of a low degree it was regarded as a suitable form of execution, and to others a grim deterrent. But this disgrace Jesus disregarded, as something not worth taking into account when it was a question of obedience to the will of God’

There has never been such pioneering, perfection and finishing of faith as there was when Jesus hung on the cross. In Matthew 27:42-43 we see Christ’s enemies sneering at Him as he was on the cross, they say ‘He saved others, Himself He can not save’ and verse 43 ‘He trusted in God’. They were, of course, mocking Him, but have truer words ever been spoken in jest? Yes! He saved others! Himself He can not save. Yes! He trusts in God. No one has ever trusted God like Jesus trusted God in Gethsemane. It was faith in God, totally unsupported by any tangible or visible evidence that sustained Christ. Without this cross enduring faith there would be no champion for us to look at, no finisher of our faith, no blazed trail to follow. No hope for us at all.

At the end of verse 2 we see the champion with His reward. We see Jesus ‘is set down at the right hand of the throne of God’. This is the joy set before Him. This is why He endured the cross and despised its shame. The joy of being united once more with His Father in Heaven. This is the joy that He will share with us, as we see all over the end of John’s Gospel, but perhaps best in 16:22 ‘and ye now therefore have sorrow, but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you’ Christ has been exalted to the throne of God as His people’s champion, and to there we will follow Him. As the cross is the supreme example of endurance, Jesus being set down at the right hand of the Father, is the supreme example of the finished race, of the victor receiving the spoils.

This is the Jesus that we are to look at. Jesus, the champion over sin. Jesus, who overcame more than we will ever have to. Jesus our perfect intercessor. Hebrews chapter 10:11 and 12 remind us of what Christ was doing as He was dying on the cross, and why we should continue to look to Him. ‘every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices that can never take away sins, but this man after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down at the right hand of God’. This is why we should look at Jesus, because He is sat at the right hand of God. Where else should we look when we struggle with sin? Where else should we go when we feel that life overwhelms us, to who else should we cry when we feel hard pressed on every side? Where else possibly than Jesus, who is set down at the right hand of God. Who else has that authority, that position, that influence to help. The author of this letter wants his readers to remember who Jesus is so that they would be encouraged not to forsake their faith and return to Judaism. And He does this by showing them who Jesus is, by encouraging them that He, as author and finisher, as our champion, is set at the right hand of God, and always will be. Why trust in anything else?

And isn’t this hugely encouraging for everyone who reads this letter whether now of then? The stunning truth here is, that because Jesus Christ lived and died on our behalf and rose again as the first fruits of the resurrection, God the Father is totally for us. He hears our prayers, He knows our struggles, He looks on us and sees Jesus, our author and finisher, He looks and sees Jesus, all that we will never be, and He answers our prayers, He wills and works in us, He forgives us. The athlete will waste his race if he stops looking at and running towards the finishing line and gets involved in what’s going on outside the stadium, we will waste our lives if we take our eyes of Jesus, perfect Jesus, who endured the cross, despised the shame, and is set down next to the Father.

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