Our very own Pastor Paul delivers this week’s BIG IDEA of Hebrews 12:1-3: RUN WITH ENDURANCE TO THE FINISH
1. Listen to the witnesses (12:1a)
2. Lay aside weights and sins (12:1b)
3. Look to Jesus (12:2-3)


ESV Study Bible
Hebrews 9-13 (William Lane, Word Biblical Commentary)
The Epistle to the Hebrews (Paul Ellingworth, New International Greek Testament Commentary)
The Epistle to the Hebrews (FF Bruce, New International Commentary on the New Testament)
“Sorrowful Love Springs from Serious Joy” (John Piper)

Sermon Transcript

Good morning! If we haven’t met, my name is Paul and I’m one of the pastors here at Citylight. It’s a privilege to be able to share from God’s Word with you this morning. Before we go any further, let’s pray.
Father, how good of you to give us your Word. As we look to your Word now, help us to know you more truly and intimately, and use it in our lives as you’ve promised. God, your Word is living and active and able to transform us from the inside out, and you know us better than we know ourselves. Meet each of us here this morning personally, whether we’re in need of comfort, encouragement, or conviction. And use me this morning to deliver your word in a way that is true and helpful, with faith that, by your Spirit, you will accomplish all you set out to do this morning. In the powerful name of Jesus, amen.
As I consider our passage this morning, I can’t help but think of Rocky. We all know Rocky – not only is he practically a landmark in our city, he’s literally a landmark.
One of the best parts of every Rocky movie is the training montage before the big fight. And, if you ask me, the best training montage is in Rocky IV. Rocky’s training in Siberia – using archaic equipment in some of the most adverse conditions imaginable. The montage ends with Rocky’s climactic run up a snowy mountain, and as he reaches the summit he throws his arms in the air – classic Rocky – looking victoriously over the Siberian tundra.
Just before this training montage, his trainer Duke delivers a powerful speech to him, detailing how difficult his road ahead is, ultimately saying it’ll be “worse than any nightmare you’ve ever dreamed. But when it’s over,” he says, “I know you’ll be the one standing. You know what you have to do. Do it!”
Rocky IV, perhaps more than any of the others, highlights Rocky’s endurance. He kept his eye on the prize and endured the road that would get him there. He knew what he had to do, and he did it.

Endurance is at the heart of our passage for this morning. The author of Hebrews uses a slightly different metaphor: running a race. I’m not a runner – never have been – but it’s clear the author has in mind more of a marathon than a sprint; it’s a race of endurance and stamina. The author has in mind the lives of those we’ve been talking about the past two weeks in Hebrews 11 – those who have gone before us, lived by faith in the face of adversity, and endured to the end.
And so in our passage for this morning, Hebrews 12:1-3, we read, Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses (these OT saints who lived by faith), 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, 2 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. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

Our passage helps us see that we’re picking up a legacy from those who have gone before us, and now it’s our turn to run the race and finish well. That’s the big idea of this passage: Run with endurance to the finish.
In our passage this morning, the author of Hebrews gives us 3 essential disciplines for running with endurance to the finish:
1. Listen to the witnesses (12:1a)
2. Lay aside weights and sins (12:1b)
3. Look to Jesus (12:2-3)

The first, is listen to the witnesses.
1. Listen to the witnesses
In verse 1 we read, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses… let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (Heb. 12:1).

Like I said earlier, I’m not a runner, but I did grow up outside of Boston, where “marathon Monday” is actually a state holiday. While I know some of you here have actually run marathons, even most of us non-runners could likely run a 6-minute mile pace for a few seconds. But we all know the goal for a long distance runner is to extend that pace over the course of miles.

Running hard after Jesus requires running with endurance, because it’s a long road. Far more than an occasional big step of faith, it’s the ongoing trust in Jesus when that step doesn’t immediately pay off that shows the endurance of our faith. The call of endurance is to remain patient and steadfast in the face of trials, believing that God is faithful even if nothing else in your life seems to substantiate that.

That’s what we’ve been seeing over the past two weeks in Hebrews 11, considering the enduring faith of those who have gone before us and completed the race. These Old Testament saints patiently endured trials, they persevered through suffering, they waited on the Lord even when what they saw might lead them to give up hope – many of them over the course of decades, or even lifetimes.

This great cloud of witnesses encourages us as they testify to a faithful God who always delivers on his promises and is worthy of our trust in every season. These saints of old have run the race before us and endured to the finish, even as many of them didn’t see the fulfillment of God’s promises in their own lifetimes. The image our passage gives us is that these forebears of faith gather along the marathon route as we run our race, and through the testimony of their lives, they shout, “by faith I finished, and you can too!” (Piper).

What does endurance look like for you right now?
What trials are you facing?
Are you in a season of waiting or do you feel stuck?
Is your faith being shaken or tested?
Are you experiencing opposition for your faith in Jesus?
What temptations are you experiencing?

Whatever it is for you, what would it look like for this great cloud of witnesses to encourage you to endure, to keep going?

Some of you know that Shanell’s and my journey toward having children was a long one. After a years-long journey of desiring children, struggling with infertility, and grieving our inability to have children biologically, we set our hearts on adoption.

At a particularly low point in our adoption journey – 13 years into our marriage and with no children in sight – we were working through the book of Genesis together here at Citylight. In that low place, the Lord met us and ministered to us in a special way. In the story of Abraham and Sarah, we saw a couple who waited decades for their promised son, even as they were already advanced in years. They didn’t wait perfectly, but God remained faithful. It helped us to trust that even though we weren’t promised children, the Lord was faithful and sufficient for us to keep enduring. We were able to see through the lives of these saints who have gone before us that, even if this good desire for children went on years longer, or even went unfulfilled, we could still trust the Lord and continue to patiently endure by faith. The great cloud of witnesses testifies not to themselves, but a God who is faithful and able to sufficiently walk with them and us as we endure by faith.

Friends, we cannot endure to the finish without listening to the witnesses. God has given us His Word which, among other things, is a story of those who have run the marathon of faith before us and whose lives testify to God’s faithfulness. We cannot underestimate the power of God’s Word, and the testimonies of faith it contains, to keep us enduring. With what’s at stake, regular, intentional time in God’s Word is a critical priority for us. As one friend told me this week: “If you’re too busy to listen to the witnesses (in other words, to read Scripture), you’re too busy” (Walter). Friends, this may not look the same for everyone – what works for a single person working a 9-5 may not work for a single mom with a baby and a preschooler. But it’s vitally important for us to prioritize listening to these witnesses who have run this race of faith before us and endured to the finish. Through the testimonies of their lives, we see that we can do it too.

But to run with endurance to the finish, not only do we need to listen to the witnesses, we need to lay aside the weights and sins that hold us back.
2. Lay aside weights and sins
Continuing in verse 1, we read, “Therefore, 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” (Heb. 12:1).

Even if you’re not a long-distance runner, we all get the concept of drag. We see it in any kind of racing – whether you’re into cycling, Nascar, or bobsled – it’s simple physics: how can you reduce drag and be as light and aerodynamic as possible? Similarly, any serious long-distance runner is constantly working to reduce whatever is holding them back from their goal of beating their best time. That’s why Brooks spends millions of dollars to decrease the weight of their running shoes by fractions of an ounce. It’s also why when you go down to Kelly Drive in the summer, you see shorter shorts than you realized were possible and guys with blinding white legs. No serious runner is running in cargo shorts.

That helps us understand what we read in Hebrews 12:1 – “let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely.” The image is of an ancient Greek marathon runner taking off his robe before a race, or training in such a way that he minimizes any unnecessary body weight that would slow him down. Likewise, if we’re going to run this marathon of faith to the finish, we need to identify the things that are holding us back, slowing us down, and threaten to keep us from finishing. The author of Hebrews identifies two things: weights and sin.

Weights are a bit more subjective than sin. The fact is, not everything that holds us back or distracts us from running the marathon of faith is objectively sinful. It’s often subjective and personal; what hinders one person may not hinder another. It may be an issue of wisdom – is it good and wise for you to do this or that, even if the answer may be different for someone else. It can also be more of a heart issue – we all have desires for good things that, if left unchecked, can actually compete with our desire to run hard after Jesus. It could be any number of things – your drive to succeed in whatever you’re working toward, a relationship that tempts you to compromise in your walk with Christ, or even something as simple as how you spend your time and money. To give a somewhat trivial example, one person might happily fill out a March Madness bracket and closely follow the games with their friends, and another may need to opt out given their other responsibilities and priorities, knowing how much the drama will suck them in. But this certainly also applies to far less trivial things – major decisions, relationships.

But here’s the thing: weights will slow you down and hold you back, but sin will trip you up and keep you from finishing altogether. Sin is also typically more objective and clear. And we’re all guilty – all of us struggle with sin, falling short of God’s good and holy intentions for us. We can read God’s Word and compare our life to the life of holiness described in Scripture. We know there are plenty of commands about things we ought and ought not do. But the Bible is also clear that when we identify sin in our lives, the appropriate response is to confess it to God and turn away from it, relying on God’s grace to go a new direction.

In this passage, we see that sin “clings closely.” It entangles and controls us. It trips us up, and it’s a serious threat to take us off course and keep us from enduring to the end. With weights, you may need to think about what’s holding you back. With sin, you probably know that it’s clinging closely. Lay it aside – confess it to the Lord, turn away, and turn your attention to Jesus who is faithful and just to forgive you.

Prior to moving down here to Philly, I was a youth pastor for over a decade. A recurring question over that time working with teens was, “How far is too far?” It applies to any myriad of topics. Like many of us, these Christian teenagers wanted to follow Jesus and live lives that honor him, but they wanted to mitigate the cost – they’re just a little more up front about it. The question really boils down to minimum required obedience: “How much can you get away with before it’s actually sinful?” One thing I learned early on in youth ministry is that the worst thing I could do was try to give a concrete answer – there are always loopholes. The real issue is that it’s the wrong question. It’s far better to ask different questions:
Will this decision help me run the marathon of faith as unhindered as possible?
Does this relationship distract me or hold me back from running hard after Jesus?
Does giving my time or money to [fill in the blank] keep me free to run with endurance to the end?

John Piper once said, “Hebrews 12:1 is a command to look at your life, think hard about what you are doing, and get ruthless about what stays and what goes.” Whether it’s objectively sinful, or subjectively holding you back in your pursuit of Jesus, we have to lay it aside for the sake of running with endurance to the end.

What do you need to lay aside? What’s slowing you down or tripping you up? Friends, now is the time. If you keep putting it off, it’s costing you, and it may ultimately be what takes you off course. Get ruthless, and invite others to help you as you seek to lay it aside and keep running.

What makes this all worth it is that this marathon of faith leads to Jesus, who is at the finish line waiting for us. So last, and certainly not least, we look to Jesus.
3. Look to Jesus
Picking up our passage at the end of verse 1, we read, “…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 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. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb. 12:1-3).

Jesus is the object, the goal, and the prize of our running. Just as we’ve seen throughout this journey through the book of Hebrews, it’s all about Jesus. And so, as we run with endurance to the finish, this marathon of faith, we look to Jesus.

Looking to Jesus, here, is more than an occasional glance. Some of you may be familiar with other English translations of this verse that read, “fixing our eyes on Jesus.” This attention on the founder and perfecter of our faith calls for undivided attention on Jesus as our only hope. As one of your pastors, I’ve had the privilege of officiating some of your weddings – one of my favorite things to do in weddings is to watch the groom watch his bride walk down the aisle. That’s what it means for us to fix our eyes on Jesus here – undivided, hope-filled attention. Looking to Jesus with divided attention won’t get you where you want to go. You need to run after Jesus like he’s the only one in the room.

This focus on Jesus strengthens us to endure the trials we face while remaining faithful because it’s in Jesus that we see God’s faithfulness most clearly. The race we’re running is one that Jesus has already run and finished. He’s the champion among the great cloud of witnesses. Jesus didn’t allow weariness, despair, or discouragement to deter him from obedience. Instead, it was for the joy set before him that he endured the cross, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Jesus is the ultimate example of running with endurance to the finish.

But there’s also a qualitative difference between Jesus and those we read about in Hebrews 11. Hebrews 6:20 tells us that “Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.” More than simply an example of enduring the race of faith, Jesus endured the ultimate race in our place. Jesus has not only finished be-fore us, but for us.

Without this difference, the message is simply to work harder. Jesus is far more than our example and inspiration to run this marathon of faith, he’s the one who put us on the course and provides all we need to finish well. Jesus not only ran the race perfectly in our place, but he won the prize for us. Jesus, while he was tempted in every way just as we are, ran the race completely unencumbered by sin or distraction, and endured the agony, rejection, and suffering of the cross in your place. Jesus endured the cross knowing that his path of suffering would lead to glory at the right hand of the Father, and knowing that those of us who trust in his completed race for us would join him there.

Friends, because Jesus has completed the race for us, we are free to run hard after him. We don’t run hard in order to earn our place at the right hand of God, but because Jesus has already won that prize for us. We can lay off anything that hinders us not because we have to, but because we get to go all in for the one who went all in for us. There is no cost too great because there is no joy more complete than following Jesus with all you have. We can trust in God’s faithfulness to us, even in seasons of deep suffering, because there is a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, testifying to God’s faithfulness in their suffering. This marathon of faith will be painful, it’ll take a lot out of us, but we can remain faithful knowing that he is faithful.

When you’re feeling tempted to grow weary or fainthearted, keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. He is your only hope in life and death, and the only one who is able to bring you to the finish.

Let’s pray.
Closing Prayer
Lord Jesus, thank you for perfectly running and completing this race before us. Thank you that you willingly set aside your glory to come and live among us – that you experienced suffering and temptation, yet without sin – and that you finished as the forerunner on our behalf. Encourage us with your Word, and the lives of those who have gone before us and run this marathon to the end. Strengthen us to run hard after you with undivided attention. Convict our hearts of any weights that would hold us back, or sin that would trip us up – and lead us to the cross to know that we are forgiven and free to keep running hard after you. May the power of your resurrection empower us to press on toward the goal, for the prize of an eternity with you. Amen.
Post-Sermon Instruction/Communion
Over the next couple of minutes, I want to invite you to prepare your hearts quietly to participate in the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is the family meal for Christians when we remember the death of Jesus on the cross for our sins. As the communion elements are being passed, prepare your hearts to celebrate the wonderful news of the gospel.

There are gluten free options in the center of each tray in the tinted cups, and you only need to take one pair of cups. The bread is in the bottom cup.

If you’re not yet a follower of Jesus, please feel free to just let that pass, and use this time to seek him, to trust in him as your Lord and savior for the first time. If that’s your intention, there’s a sample prayer at the bottom of your connect card that can give you language for turning from your sin and believing in Jesus.

If you’re a follower of Christ, this is a great time to reflect on the good news of the gospel, to quietly affirm your faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, and to have your hearts be strengthened for this marathon of faith.

So we’ll take a moment now for quiet reflection as the elements are being passed out.

[pause until elements fully distributed]

Let’s celebrate the Lord’s Supper now, beginning with the bread, as I read the words of the Apostle Paul from 1 Corinthians 11:

On the night when he was betrayed, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Let’s eat in remembrance of his body broken for the forgiveness of sins.

In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” Let’s drink in remembrance of Christ’s blood shed for us.

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Amen.

We’re going to respond now to the message of Hebrews 12 by singing TWO/THREE songs.

As we sing, there are a couple other ways we can respond together:
If you’d like prayer for any reason, we’ll have a couple volunteers in the back under the prayer signs who would love the opportunity to minister to you in that way.
Or, if you’re a covenant member of our church, I want to invite you to ask the Lord to bring to mind a prophetic word of scriptural encouragement to build the rest of us up. If God does bring something to mind, please bring it to me in front. We’ll weigh it according to Scripture and communicate as appropriate.

Now, if you’re able, stand and sing with us.
If you’re new around here or want to get more connected, I want to encourage you to fill out a connect card and drop it in the orange box before you leave.

We’ve also got a newcomer’s meal starting as soon as this service ends, where you can learn a little more about our church from one of our pastors and meet some other new folks. As you exit the sanctuary, it’s the first door on your left.

Lastly, our I and our prayer volunteers will be here in front if you’d like prayer for any reason.

Now hear this as our benediction: Lord, may we hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, knowing that you are faithful to your promises (Heb. 10:23).

Go in peace.