“By Faith Let Us Also Run the Race” (Hebrews 11:1 – 12:3)

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 14, 2022

“By Faith Let Us Also Run the Race” (Hebrews 11:1 – 12:3)

Whether you like it or not, you are in a race. It’s a long-distance race, more like a marathon than a sprint. It will not be easy. It will take endurance to complete the course. Do you have what it takes? That’s an important question, because it is imperative, it is absolutely necessary, that you make it to the finish line. If you don’t, if you drop out of the race, you lose everything. But if you do cross the finish line and reach the goal, you will gain a victory that is better than any other. That’s how important this is.

So to find out that there are others who have run the race and reached the finish line, you might want to know what their secret was. And, surprisingly, it’s not because they were all such talented runners. In fact, they were people just like you and me. Which gives us hope that we too can make it to the end. And so our theme this morning: “By Faith Let Us Also Run the Race.”

Our text is from the Book of Hebrews, a combination of last week’s Epistle, the first part of Hebrews 11, along with today’s reading, the rest of chapter 11 and the beginning of chapter 12. It makes for a long reading, but then, this is a long race we have to run.

Hebrews 11 is the famous chapter known as the “Hall of Fame of Faith.” It is a remarkable run-through of the whole of the Old Testament, highlighting the well-known heroes of the faith that you may recall from your Sunday School lessons. Abraham, Moses, David, and many more, are cited as examples of those who accomplished amazing things as they ran the race set before them. But what is it that enabled them to do these amazing things?

Well, look at the refrain that runs throughout this chapter. Do you see it? Take a look: “By faith Abel. . . . By faith Enoch. . . . By faith Noah. . . . By faith Abraham. . . . By faith Sarah. . . . By faith Isaac. . . . By faith Jacob. . . . By faith Joseph. . . . By faith Moses. . . . By faith Rahab. . . .” In all, the phrase, “by faith,” or its equivalent, “through faith,” occurs over twenty times in the forty verses of Hebrews 11. It seems a point is being made.

And the point is not that all these people were superhuman golden saints who had no flaws. No, not by a longshot. You know, sometimes we refer to these folks as “heroes of the faith.” Well, that’s something of a misnomer. These Old Testament characters did not always live such heroic or virtuous lives. One of the distinctive features supporting the authenticity of the Bible, compared to texts from other religions, is that the Bible lets us see these people in their full humanity, warts and all.

For instance, Abraham at one point got impatient waiting for God to deliver on his promise, so he took up with a concubine and had a son by her. Sarah laughed at the idea of her having a child at her age. Jacob was a trickster who cheated his brother out of his birthright and blessing. Moses killed a man in anger. The people who crossed the Red Sea worshiped a golden calf and were always grumbling and complaining. Rahab had been a prostitute. Samson let himself get seduced and lost his strength as a result. Jephthah made a rash and impetuous vow that cost the life of his daughter. David–David, for goodness’ sakes!–King David was an adulterer and a murderer!

So these were not perfect, faultless superheroes. No, in many ways they were people just like you and me. And yet they overcame many obstacles and pressed on and eventually reached the finish line. So there’s hope here for stumbling saints the likes of us. I know I’m no superhero. Oftentimes in my life I have taken a wrong turn before getting back on course. Oftentimes I have tripped and fallen, or just felt like giving up, and then I had to pick myself up and get going again. Maybe you can look at your own life and see the same.

I know I’m no superhero, but I also know I have the same thing that enabled those saints of old to run the race and finish the course. And that’s faith. Now the faith that enabled them and will enable you and me to run the race–this faith is nothing that you have to come up with on our own. Faith is not some magical quality in you that you have to muster up by dint of your determination and firm resolve. If that were the case, you could never be sure that you had faith enough. It would be a rather shaky foundation on which to build.

Rather, the firm foundation for your faith is found in God’s almighty, infallible, and trustworthy Word. God’s word of promise is utterly reliable. You can stake your life on it. You can stake your eternal salvation on it. “How firm a foundation, O saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!”

The saints of Hebrews 11 were not perfect people, and neither are we. But they and we have God’s perfect promises to rely on. That’s what it means to run the race and reach the goal “by faith.” God’s word of promise will sustain you and strengthen you as you look toward the finish line and see the goal that is in store.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.” That’s the way it was for those Old Testament saints. They had received God’s promises, but they were still waiting for the arrival of the things promised when they died. “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar.”

God had given the promise of a Savior to come, who would stomp on the serpent’s head and reverse the curse of death–God had given that promise ever since the fall into sin. And that promise was reinforced and refined time and time again over the centuries. To Abraham the promise was that through Abraham’s seed–that is, through Isaac and Jacob and the tribes of Israel–all the families of the earth would be blessed. To King David the promise took further shape that David’s son, one of David’s descendants, would reign as the great messianic king, who would rule over an everlasting kingdom of glory and blessing. These Old Testament saints had the promise of the coming Christ, and by faith they were looking forward to his coming, but they didn’t live long enough to see him arrive.

We in the New Testament era have seen him arrive. But even for us, we still need to live by faith. We have not seen with our eyes Jesus performing his miracles of healing. We have not heard with our ears Jesus preaching and teaching. We have not seen Jesus risen from the dead, like his apostles did. But we have their testimony. And their New Testament witness–along with the testimony of that whole cloud of Old Testament witnesses–their witness rings true to ears opened by the Holy Spirit. God creates faith in our hearts through his living. life-giving, and efficacious Word.

“Therefore,” our text says, as we move into chapter 12, “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.” This is a spiritual race, so even an old guy with achy knees like me is able to keep going. But it being a spiritual race doesn’t mean it’s any less challenging. In fact, it is more so. You have the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh working against you. They would pull you off course, discourage you, and get you to quit and give up. Don’t listen to them. Keep on running. If you fall, get back up. God will help you. Keep on running, keep on running.

And keep your eyes on the prize. Keep your focus on Jesus. “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus came to complete the race set before him, and how blessed we are that he did! Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. He knew the suffering and agony that awaited him there. Still, he went. He was determined to do the will of his Father and to win your salvation. It meant the way of the cross. But this was the only way for him to gain your forgiveness, by shedding his blood on your behalf, as the sacrifice for your sins. This is how Jesus defeated death for you, as his own resurrection shows forth. Knowing what his sacrificial death would accomplish–namely, the salvation of the world and your eternal life–this was the joy set before him that gave Jesus the strength to endure.

Now risen, ascended, and seated at the right hand of God, our Lord Jesus is the founder and perfecter of our faith. He is the founder. His life, death, and resurrection–this is the sure foundation of our faith. He is the perfecter of our faith. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, keep attentive to his word, as week after week you come here to receive his forgiveness and be strengthened in your faith. Keep looking to Jesus, and you will be amazed at how God is able to keep you–like the saints who have gone before us–how God is able to keep you running the long-distance race set before you with endurance.

Published in: on August 11, 2022 at 8:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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