November 18, 2018

Rev. Bernt P. Tweit



Old Testament Lesson; Jeremiah 8:4-7

Epistle Lesson; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18                              

Sermon Text; Hebrews 12:1-2


The Word we focus on for today is taken from Hebrews, chapter twelve, looking at the first two verses.  This is in Jesus' name.


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.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.


These are your words, Heavenly Father.  Lead us in the way of truth.  Your Word is truth.



Pastor Bartels mentioned this is the second last Sunday of the Church Year.  As we get to the end of the Church Year, one of the themes we focus on is Judgment day, or the end times, and how scripture gives us an encouragement to be ready for that day.  So, let's just imagine you are standing at center court at The Kohl Center, here in Madison, Wisconsin.  Or, imagine you are standing at mid field at Camp Randall Stadium, or at Lambeau Field.  Or, you are standing on the pitcher's mound at Miller Park, and the stadium is jam packed.  The whole crowd is focused on you, and encouraging you.  Just imagine that.

The people who the author of the book of Hebrews is talking about are not spectators.  They are people who are examples, or are witnesses who have gone before us, and now are encouraging us in our life of faith.

The word we translate there, as 'witnesses', “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses...”, actually is from the Greek word, 'martyron'.  That's where we get our English word, 'martyr' from.  And so, we have people, witnesses, examples, who have gone before us, who know what it is like to walk in your shoes, who are encouraging you.

You see, the writer of the book of Hebrews begins with the word “Therefore...” 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses...”. 

He is talking about the people he had just mentioned in the chapter before, chapter eleven of the book of Hebrews.  It is oftentimes referred to as, “The Heroes of Faith Chapter” in scripture.  I am going to mention some of the names that are mentioned in Hebrews, chapter eleven.

-One of them is Noah.  Noah is a witness, or an example for us.  God told Noah to build an ark, when no water was around.  Noah diligently did that.  But, imagine the persecution Noah endured, while he was building that ark.  People were giving Noah a hard time for doing what he was doing.  “Your God told you to do that?”  And yet, he did it by faith.

-Another name that is mentioned in Hebrews, chapter eleven is Abraham.  God called Abraham to leave his country, to leave his family, and go to a land that he would give to his descendants.  Abraham did that, by faith.

God told Abraham, “You are going to be father of many people.  You are going to be a great nation.”  Well, he didn't have son, until he was one hundred years.  And when that son who was born to him was a teenager, God told him to kill that son, to sacrifice that son.  Abraham was willing to do that, by faith.

-The author of the book of Hebrews goes on to say, “I don't have time to tell you about other people like Daniel in the lion's den.”  But imagine the faith of Daniel, as he was thrown in to the den of lions. 

-The author of the book of Hebrews says, “I don't have time to tell you about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the three men who were thrown into the fiery furnace.”  But, imagine their faith, as they were thrown into a fire that was seven times hotter than normal.

-The author of the book of Hebrews says, “I don't have time to tell you about women who received their sons back to them who had died - the widow of Zeraphath's son in Elijah's day, and the Shunammite's son in Elisha's day.”

Here is what the book of Hebrews says about all of those witnesses, and examples who have gone before us.  It says,

“All of these people were living by faith,

when they died.”  

What a wonderful example of those who have gone before us.  What a wonderful witness they are, who have gone before us. 

Now, it tells us what to do. 

“...let us throw off everything that hinders

and the sin that so easily entangles.” 

Consider the word picture that is there.  “...throw off everything that hinders, and the sin that so easily entangles.”  The picture I showed the youth at The Children's Sermon reminds me of cross country races.  I am a cross country dad, because my kids ran cross country.  One of the things that is so interesting, especially in cold weather is to see cross country runners warm up.  They have their coats on.  They have their pants on.  They have hats, and gloves on.  But, just a few minutes before the race, they start to take all of that off.  The hats come off.  The coats come off.  The pants come off, as they get ready for the race. 

What are they doing?  They are throwing off everything that may hinder them.  They don't want anything to slow them down.  Even during the course of the race, you will see runners who are throwing hats off, and they are throwing gloves off, because they are now warm, and they want to throw off anything, and everything that may hinder them.  Kind of an interesting picture to think about. 

In the first Olympics, back in Greece, the runners who trained diligently, who were lining up at the starting line, were hardly wearing any clothing, at all.  They were very scantily clad, because they were throwing off anything that could possible hinder them, or slow them down.

Also, we are encouraged by the witnesses, and examples who have gone before us, to throw off any sin that may entangle us, anything that might possibly slow us down.  We have some examples in Scripture of people who were clinging to things.  It slowed them down, and they perished. 

-Think about Lot's wife.  God told Lot, and his family to leave Sodom and Gomorrah.  He was going to destroy those cities.  He said, “When you leave, don't look back.  Keep your eyes focused on where you are going.  Don't look back.”

Lot's wife did look back.  Because of her hesitancy, she died.  She perished. 

-History tells us that when Mt. Vesuvius erupted back in Pompeii many years ago, in recent excavations they found a woman who was fleeing from the eruption.  She was running out of the city gate.  Her feet and legs were going out the city gate, but her torso, and her head were turned, and faced down, as she was reaching for a bag of pearls that had fallen on the ground.  Maybe she had dropped them, or maybe somebody else did.  But, here death was fast on her heels, and even with that, the greed of those pearls caused her to slow down, and she perished.

-Alexander the Great, when he was advancing through Persia, he was winning victory, after victory, after victory.  But, all of a sudden his men slowed down, and they were loosing battle, after battle, after battle.  Alexander the Great couldn't figure it out right away.  Then, he found out what it was.  From all of their victories, they had taken plunder.  All of the plunder had slowed his army down immensely.  So, he stopped his army right in their tracks, and told them to throw all of their plunder into a pile.  He lit it on fire, burning it all up.  Then, they were much swifter.  They could move more quickly, and victory was assured, because they had gotten rid of that plunder they were holding on to.

-In a sense, we are just like them, aren't we?  I say that because we hold on to things that hinder us.  We hold on to things that entangle us.  What I am talking about is sin.  We let greed hinder us.  We let envy entangle us.  Those things slow us down, and those things take our focus off of Jesus. 

So, our text for today says,

“...let us run with perseverance, the race marked out for us.” 

The word we translate as 'race' in English comes from the Greek word 'agony'.  That is where we get our English word 'agony' from. 

Sometimes at a cross country race, the very last race they will run is something called A Fun Run.  After all of the competitors have raced, they allow parents, spectators, and kids to run this Fun Run, if they want to. 

I have had many a conversation with some people who have said, “Running is not fun.  How can they call that a fun run?”

And yet, what scripture refers to as running in agony, running a race in agony, is a very good picture of a Christian's life.  A Christian's life is going to be a life of agony, because Jesus, Himself said, “In this world you (me) will have trouble.” 

Just yesterday, UW hosted the National Cross Country Championship, hosting the event, right here in Madison, Wisconsin.  Leading up to the race, I heard a report of both coaches for the men and the women, as they were talking about this race that was coming up.  One of the things they were discussing was the weather report.  The men's coach was talking about how it was going to be in the 30s, and this is the weather that is going to be. 

Then the woman's coach got on the microphone and here is what she said.  “I hope it is 29 degrees.  I hope it is windy.  I hope it is cold.  I hope it is snowing, during the race, because my racers know what cold weather is.  My racers know what it is like to run in the cold weather.  They are physically prepared for this.  A cross country race is mental toughness.  And, my team is mentally tough for this race.”

A Christian's life isn't just physical training, but it is mentally training, as well.  And so, as we run with perseverance, this race marked out for us, our scripture text for today tells us who our focus  should be on. 

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus...” 

How is it that we fix our eyes on Jesus? 

-Well, we fix our eyes on Jesus, as we gather together for worship, just like we are doing right now. 

-We fix our eyes on Jesus, as we have personal and family Bible devotions and stories at home. 

-We fix our eyes on Jesus, as we receive The Lord's Supper for the forgiveness of sin. 

Who is this Jesus we focus our eyes on?  He is the author of our faith.  He is the protector, the protector or the finisher of our faith.  He is the author.  He is the beginning.  He is the architect of our faith.  But, He is also the finisher of our faith, as well.  When Jesus said, “It is finished”, from the cross, He made full and complete payment for all of our sin, so that we would have everlasting life with Him, in Heaven.  It says about Jesus,

“He endured the cross.  He scorned its shame.”  

There is an interesting phrase that comes right before that, in our text for today.  Not only did Jesus endure the cross, not only did He scorn its shame, but it says,

“...for the joy set before Him...” 

Jesus didn't do this unwillingly, He did it willingly.  For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross for us.  For the joy set before Him, He endured its shame.

Thanks be to God, Jesus did everything necessary for our salvation.  Our sins are forgiven.  We have everlasting life with Him in Heaven.

So, scripture says,

“We have One who has been tempted in every way,

just as we are,

and yet was without sin.” 

Jesus is the greatest example.  Not only did He say, “In this world you will have trouble”, but He concluded that by saying,

“Take heart,

because I have overcome the world.”

I want to end this morning with this last illustration, to share with you, and then a Bible passage to close.

Back in 1992 the Summer Olympics were held in Barcelona, Spain.  That year there was a man whose name was Derrick Redman who was supposed to win the 400 meter event.  During the semi final heat, he got into the starter's block.  The pistol went off, and he started to run.  He was running a great race.  But, 150 meters into the race, he felt a searing pain in his right hamstring.  He crumpled to the ground.  The medical staff came running toward him to see what happened.  He stood up, and began hobbling very slowly, very slowly to the finish line.  The medical attendants were telling him, “Stop.  You don't have to do this”, but he kept going. 

There was a man who came out of the stands.  He made it past the security.  He made it onto the track.  He ran up to Derrick Redman, to help him on his way.  Do you know who it was?  It was his dad.  His dad was there to help him finish the race.  He was the slowest runner that day, and yet when he crossed the finish line, sixty five thousand people were cheering wildly that he finished the race.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you and I are in a race.  We are in the race of life.  We have witnesses.  We have examples of people who have gone before us.  They are encouraging us on our journey.  They tell us to “throw off everything that hinders, and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”, who is at the right hand of God.  Jesus is in a position of power, and honor, and authority.  He is waiting for Judgment Day, when He will come, and bring us to Heaven, for all eternity.

About this, the Apostle Paul wrote: 

“I have fought the good fight.  I have finished the race.  I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge will award to me on that day.  Not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearance.”