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HEBREWS 12:1-12
Series:  Running By Faith - Part Five

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
October 17, 2010

We are talking about faith - not living by fear but by faith in God.  We have been looking at Hebrews chapter 11.  This morning we have turned the page and we are coming to Hebrews chapter 12.  I invite you turn there - Hebrews 12 - starting at verse 1 and we’ll come there in a moment.


Last Monday USA Today ran an editorial article entitled “Science and Religion Aren’t Friends.”  The article was written by Dr. Jerry Coyne - who is an atheist and a professor at the University of Chicago in the Department of Ecology and Evolution. 


Professor Coyne wrote this:  “Atheist books such as The God Delusion and The End of Faith have, by exposing the dangers of faith and the lack of evidence for the God of Abraham, become best-sellers.  Science nibbles at religion from the other end, relentlessly consuming divine explanations and replacing them with material ones. 


Coyne goes on to quote Scripture.  Which really caught my eye because this is where we began looking at faith back in September.  Coyne writes, “Hebrews 11:1 states, with complete accuracy, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Indeed a doubting-Thomas demand for evidence is often considered rude… the biggest problem with religious “truth”:  There’s no way of knowing whether it’s true.”

It would have been great if Professor Coyne had gone on to quote the next two verses of Hebrews 11.  Verse 2:  For by it - faith - the men of old gained approval.  By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.


No matter what we believe - we live our lives based on what we believe.  We have a choice of what explanation - speculation or revelation - we have a choice of what explanation to have faith in.  Because none of us was there when all this became all of this - the origin of things.  We have to have enough faith in whatever explanation we choose to have faith in in order to make choices in how we live our lives.


Science speculates as to how all this came about.  Some kind of big bang out of nothing or something.  They’re not sure yet.  But - listening to the voices of Professor Coyne - who’s representing the views a of a multitude of others - we're told that science has the answers and is blowing faith out of the water because science is science.  Just the facts - as we understand them.  No faith required. 


Revelation is what we believe is God’s explanation.  Genesis says that God created all of this out of nothing.  Hebrews 11:3 says, “The worlds were prepared by the word of God.”  Same truth.  The origin of it all is God.  God spoke and it was.  Nothing became something. 


Revelation invites us to look at what is and see that there’s a reality behind the reality.  That there’s design and there’s order.  One can even argue that there’s intent and purpose in what we see around us.


The author of Hebrews’ point is this:  We weren’t there when all this came into being.  But when we see all of this it assures us that there is a Creator - God.  And that we can live convinced of those things that we don’t see. 


Faith is not a roll of the dice - chuck your brains at the door - religious happy time experience for easily brainwashed people who can’t cope with life and have no clue how to do science - who “just” believe because they know that it ain’t so but “you gotta have faith.”


God reveals that He is the reality behind the reality.  The foundational substance of faith is God.  There’s no speculation in that.  Just bedrock reality.


When we see creation we have evidence that God not only exists but that He is worthy of our placing our faith in Him.  That the God who spoke creation into existence by His word speaks promises to us - His presence with us now - our spending eternity with Him - promises that we can live convinced that He will fulfill - not based on speculation but based upon the assurance - the unchanging reality - of the unchanging Creator God.


Are we together?


That’s what we’ve been looking at in Hebrews chapter 11.  Example after example of men and women who have trusted that the God of creation is trustworthy and that God really does have a plan and purpose for our lives.  Men and women who have let go of their fears and chosen to step forward in faith.


God has not created us to live in fear but by faith in Him.  Heard that?


And God showing up.  Which is a huge reassurance for us.  This isn’t just great doctrine and theology.


God really did use these Hebrews 11 people in His great purposes.  Even though their lives were often the pits God never left them.  He really was there for them.  God blessed them - gave them what they needed for life.  Example after example for us in the real time of where we live our lives that we can trust God with the stuff of our lives.


That’s where Hebrews 12 begins.  Look with me at Hebrews 12:1:  Therefore - the reason for the therefore is what comes next - therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us,


Who are the witnesses?  Example after example from Hebrews 11.  From Abel and Noah and Moses and David and the prophets and the Jews up through the Maccabees - multitudes of people - who by the way they lived their lives - if they were in this room today - they would tell us “Live by faith in God.  Just do it”


Therefore - because we have these incredible examples urging us to live by faith - let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.


Looking at this list here in Hebrews 11 do you ever wonder “How did they do that?”  Don’t you feel just a tad intimidated by some of those names and what they did?  These are great examples urging us to faith - that trusting God is the way to go.  But, how do we even come close to living with that kind of faith?   


Hebrews 12 is the answer to that question.  How can I life that kind of life?  How do I set aside my fears and live by faith? 


An encumbrance is a weight.  What weighs us down.  What holds us back.  What we try to drag along with us as we trying to run through life. 


We get weighted down with worry, sorrow, anger, money problems, whatever.  Maybe we’re dragging around stuff - abuse - from when we were growing up.  Or, we’re dragging around crud from a failed marriage.  Or, maybe its things that have been said to us or really bad decisions we’ve made.


We look for satisfaction - answers - in the things around us.  We turn to food or drugs or possessions or pornography or sports - addictions - habits - relationships - the pursuit of success - comfort.  Even religion can be an encumbrance - all that great ritual - the Christian lifestyle - we can hide behind.  We hang on to our prerogatives to be angry or to hold resentments or to gossip.  We distance ourselves from other people.  


Encumbrances lead us into sin because they lead us away from God - to faith in ourselves - our answers - our coping with life - not looking to God.  An encumbrance is sin when in the circumstances of our lives - an encumbrance is sin when we fix our eyes anywhere else but on Jesus - on God.  Sin carries a weight.  It encumbers us. 


We all live encumbered in one way or another - going through life dragging along stuff that’s weighing us down - emotionally - physically - spiritually - holding us back from running - dragging along stuff that’s slowly killing us.


We hang on to these things which would seem logically - if we could get outside our lives and kind of look at ourselves objectively - it would be a no brainer to drop these encumbrances like a hot rock.


Often times we fear - there’s that word fear - we fear what will happen if we did let go.  We’ve spent our whole lives seeing ourselves as encumbered people.  Living as people where our priorities - the agenda for our lives - what we focus on is tied up in what encumbers us - on what makes sense to us to get us through life.

All that weight is kind of like an old friend.  We have a hard time imagining what it would be like to live without that kind of encumbrance.  The unknown of living different is fearful.


(Cartoon)  “Fed up with how her diet is going, Charlene takes a more serious aim at her target weight.”


Hebrews 12 invites us to lay aside our encumbrances - to choose to get rid of them.  Literally to toss aside our fears by following the examples of those who’ve gone before who’ve set aside their fears - to take aim at someone else - to fix our eyes on Jesus.


Take a look at the person on your left - even if that’s across and aisle - just look a little farther.  Are you looking?  Now look at the person on your right.  As you made that turn - when did you stop looking at the person on your left and start looking a the person on your right?  Hard to tell exactly when it was because its all part of the same movement.  Right?  But there was a change of who you were looking at.  Right?


To fix our eyes - in the Greek - is a word that has the idea of both what we turn from looking at and what we turn to look to.  Choose to turn from looking at our fears - at the encumbrances and stuff we’re filling our lives with - hanging on to ourselves.  Choose to look at Jesus.


Jesus is the ultimate in examples for us.  Jesus is God - a real person in the real time of our lives that we can relate to an fix our eyes on and learn to live by faith by looking at Jesus and how He did life - knowing that beyond all the encumbrances is God and the life that He has for us - that Jesus opened up to us on the cross. 


The rest of chapter 12 is an explanation of how to do that.  There’s lot of great truth here that we could spend years digging through.  But today and the next three Sundays we’re going to focus on four of those areas of our lives - four encumbrances - that we need to turn from in order to get our focus on Jesus.


The first is here - beginning in verse 3 - The Encumbrance of Our Priorities.  Let’s say that together.  “The encumbrance of our priorities.”  We need to lay aside the encumbrances of our agenda for our lives


To help get us thinking about the choices we make - choosing which things in our life get the most attention - we’re going to watch a little Brad Paisley.


(Video:  Brad Paisley “I’m Gonna Miss Her”)


I want to go on record as saying that the views expressed by that video are not the priorities of the pastor.  However, did you happen to notice the 49er’s score?  San Francisco 28.  Dallas 3. 


Priorities - our agenda for our lives.

Look with me at Hebrews 12:3:  For consider Him - Jesus - who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin;


Put simply:  “You’re not dead yet.”  It may feel like you’re dying.  But you ain’t dead yet.  And there are worse things than death - like eternity in Hell without God.


Jesus - despite the hostility and shame and hatred and abuse and everything else that was leveled at Him - took on death and the worst of this world - including our sins and our encumbrances - and died on the cross for us so that we could live with the penalty for our sins paid - live free of the wrath of God - so that we could live with the certain hope of eternity with God.


Jesus lived following God’s agenda - God’s priorities - for His life.  Jesus faithfully followed after God’s plan for His life and Jesus is alive and victorious and so God is faithful and so don’t loose heart because you haven't even gotten close to doing what Jesus did - whatever you’re going through - Jesus went through worse and God took care of Him and God is still God and in Jesus He’s got you covered as well.


To follow after God’s agenda for our lives is not easy.  Its gonna require surrendering everything we are.  But don’t loose heart.  Don’t be afraid to go there.  Its worth it.


Verse 5:  and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those who the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.  It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.


Are we together on the comparison?  Human fathers compared with God our Heavenly Father.


There are tons of kids today who are uncared for.  Their parents have abdicated.  They’ve been abandoned by parents who are more committed to themselves - their own pleasure and affluence - their own self-serving priorities in life


Some kids are throwaway kids even before they’re born.  The get murdered in the womb.  And there’s a ton of kids out there who’ve been born but never known the true love of a parent.  They’re rejects.  Throwaways. 


Kids who get bought off with tons of stuff.  Kids who wander the streets and join gangs - who get into drugs and other self-destructive stuff - who live without hope - who tune out - drop out - who learn to live a kind of empty life covered with lies and the image they hope everyone sees - kids who end up killing someone else or end up killing themselves.

They’re like what the writer of Hebrews says here in verse 8 - they’re undisciplined and unloved.  They’re treated as illegitimate - bastards. 


The evidence that God loves us is that He disciplines us.  Any father worth being called a father is going to discipline his child.  Discipline means instruction - nurture - correcting mistakes - curbing passions - increasing virtue - cultivation of mind, morals, and soul.


A loving father isn’t going to leave his child alone.  A loving father is going to help his child to see the value in his or her life - to teach life skills - to instill a desire to be the best that God has created him or her to be.  Any father worth being called a father is going to do everything possible to help his child to come to a relationship with Jesus and to know what it means to live life daily with the living God.  To live by God’s priorities - to follow God’s agenda for his life.


Hold on to this.  Why does God discipline us?  Because He loves us.  We’re His kids.  He’s our Father Who loves us.


Verse 9:  Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.  All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.


A few years ago when I was in High School I was on the wrestling team.  We would do these grueling work outs - running for miles - endless stretching and training exercises - endless repetitions of moves - practicing against each other.  All in this small room at the back of the locker room.  There was so much humidity in the work out room from all the sweat coming off of us that by the end of practice the walls were dripping.  Hours of grueling work outs.


Ever heard this?  “No Pain No Gain.”  That sign was up in the locker room.  Coming out of the work out room - drenched in sweat - seeing that sign - that sign made a whole of sense.


The word here in verse 11 for “training” is the Greek word “gumnazo” which is were we get our English word?  Gymnasium.  Rigorous - repetitious - painful - hard - muscle stretching exercise. 


It would be really easy - reading through these verses - to think that if we’re getting nailed by something that God must be punishing us for something we’ve done wrong.  Discipline means pain because I deserve pain.


Sometimes we might need to get hit in the head with a 2X4 for God to get our attention.  But not all the crud that comes at us is God sitting on His throne in heaven punching the “SMITE” button on His cosmic computer and we get nailed with stuff.  Sometimes we experience crud in life because life is full of crud.


Discipline means training.  It may not always be a joyful experience.  But that’s not because we’ve done anything wrong.  Its because we’re learning to do what’s right.


Someone has said, “Pain plants the flag of reality in the fortress of a rebel heart.”  C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains:  it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  (1)


Grab on to this - in all the circumstances of our lives - good - bad - ugly -  some of that self-inflicted - some of that God shouting at us - some of that just pure old grunting and groaning exercise - God desires to train us - His kids.  So God restricts us - corrects us - demands of us what we do not want to hear.  He makes us face things about ourselves that we don’t want to face.  Slowly stripping away the flab - the weight of our encumbrances - our priorities - our agenda.  And all that isn’t easy.


But God loves us.  God is not going to allow us to grow up arrogant - self-centered - spoiled brats - with no possibility of joy and freedom and love and living life in abundance with Him. 


Another part of this analogy here says that human fathers do what seems best to them.  Let’s face it - even if we had the most loving father they didn’t always do the best job of fathering.


I see that about myself.  Thinking about my efforts at fathering.  Trying to figure out what’s the right way to approach a situation or what’s the right thing to say.  There have been times that I’ve had to go back and apologize to my kids cause I’ve blown it.  Just ask them.  They’ll tell you.  Dad is far from perfect.


Verse 9 tells us that if we can respect our human fathers with all their flaws - how much more we can trust our Heavenly Father Who has no flaws.  Dad isn’t perfect.  But God is.


Hold on to that.  God isn’t winging it when it comes to discipline - training us.  God knows where He’s going with His discipline - how He’s going to get there - and why. 


God’s purpose comes in verses 10 and 11 - where God is going with all this.  The first part is in verse 10 - “So that… what?  So that - purpose - so that we may share - or partner - in His - God’s - holiness.”


Let’s repeat that together, “Holiness.”


Holiness has the idea of usefulness.  Being useful to God.  When we come to Jesus as our Savior - God comes to live within us - to empower us - to supply us with everything we need to do life - to guide us through life.  Holiness here is our total dependence is on God - on all that God supplies to us - so that we’re totally availability to God to use us however He chooses.


Think of it this way.  Holiness is when our priorities in life match God’s priorities for our lives.  They’re shared - the same.


The second part of God’s purpose comes at the end of verse 11 - so that as we share in God’s holiness - as our priorities become one with God’s priorities - His agenda for our lives - what’s yielded - what’s produced in us and through us is the peaceful fruit of righteousness.  Let’s repeat that together, “The peaceful fruit of righteousness.”


What we begin to experience is a character that’s right before God - filled with inner peace and joy - not fear - having the inner strength - wholeness - quietness - authority - confidence that comes with righteousness.  A character that’s useful to God in His work in history - in His work of redemption.  Us living the abundant life with confidence and purpose and meaning.


We’re trying to run this race of life - we’re trying to run and God desires for us to run - to run well - to run the way He’s created us to run - to run through life empowered by Him - available to Him - to lead us however He chooses to lead us - the best possible route to the finish line.  And yet God knows - as we know - that we’re running encumbered - dragging along all this weight.


God’s discipline is purposefully designed to separate us from all those encumbrances - to live life without encumbrance and fear.  To bring us to that life of holiness with Him - to produce in us and through us the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

No one uses nails any more.  Have you noticed this?  People use screws to build things - fences - walls - whatever.  Screws are just more convenient - easier to use - they hold things together better.  A couple years ago I inherited a whole bunch of nails.  Several cans and boxes of unwanted rusting nails.


Since no one uses nails any more I thought, “Well, hey.  I can take these in and get money for the metal.”  I thought I had veritable fortune in nails.  So I took them to that scrap metal place Atwater off of 99.  You know where that is?  And proudly presented the guy there with my little treasure of nails.


The guy said, “Oh, we don’t take those.”


I said, “Well.  Why not?


He said, “Well.  No one uses nails any more.”  


I said, “What about as scrap metal?”


He said, “Well, they aren’t really worth a whole lot even as scrap metal.”  He finally gave 75 cents.  I don’t know if he was trying to rid of me or he was just taking pity on me.


People that deal with scrap metal have a really good understanding of the value of that metal.  They can look at a old rusty something or other and see in it the value of the metal or if the part was cleaned up what the part would be worth.  The usefulness of the metal after it goes through the process of smelting or cleaning - separating all the accumulated crud that keeps it from being what its designed to be.


That’s what God is about doing in our lives.  He sees us past the rust - the encumbrances - to how He’s created us - our potential - what it means for us to live holy and righteous lives.


Our priorities - our agenda for our lives - is focused on maintaining our own little world.  Taking us through life the way we understand life.  Keeping us cocooned in what we’ve learned to live with - our feelings of fear and failure and frustration with life.  No matter how painful - how hopeless.  All that encumbrance is at least not as fearful as the unknown of something - anything - different.


Does it solve anything?  The definition of insanity?  Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  Does it solve the deep issues of your life to keep plugging away at a hopeless agenda?


God gives us a choice of where to fix our eyes - what God offers us in Jesus.  What does it take to get your eyes fixed on Jesus?  What do you need to turn from?  What do you need to do to turn towards Him?


Maybe this morning you may need to turn from an addiction.  The hard of work of training may be honesty and accountability.


Maybe you need to turn from some attitude or behavior.  The hard work of training might be asking for forgiveness - or counseling - or who you spend time with.


Maybe you need to get back into the Bible or spend more time in prayer or serving God - those all shape our attitudes from the heart outward.  The hard training of that might be turning away from how you’re spending your time or money.


As we go through the stuff of life be praying, “God show me - discipline me - help me to see what I need to let go of and what I need to cling to - so that you can train me in holiness - so you will produce in me Your righteousness - so that my priorities for my life are Your priorities for my life.  So I can run without encumbrance.”




1. C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.


Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE ®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.