October 10, 2021 Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 14:25-33
I am relieved today! The reason is that I have a limited arsenal of metaphors I use to make theological points. They are, as you all know, almost exclusively athletic metaphors.
So today, I am not the one using and athletic metaphor; the author of the book of Hebrews is.
Did you know that the NT uses the image, or metaphor of an athlete at least 15 times? The image is not always used in the same way though. Sometimes it used to show the effort of an athlete, or the training, or to highlight the discipline of an athletic endeavor, or the prize of completing a race (1 Cor. 9:24-27).
In Hebrews 12:1 the author is focusing on the endurance of the athlete or the athletic event. He is thinking of faith as a marathon, as a long distance run.
Listen to what he says in Hebr. 3:6: “we are in his house if we hold firm the confidence and hope”, Hebr. 3:14: “we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end”, Hebr. 4:14: “..let us hold fast to our confession”, Hebr. 6:12: “..so that you may not become sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises”, Hebr. 6:15: “Abraham , having patiently endured, obtained the promise”, Hebr. 10:36: “for you need endurance…”, Hebr. 10:39: “we are not among those who shrink back …”, Hebr. 12:1, 3: “let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…., so that you may not grow weary or lose heart”.
In these verses you can sense the need and urgency to endure, to persevere, to never give up, to continue, to see it through, to press on, to keep it up, and to carry on!
The author presents us with examples of people who in the past endured. It is almost as if he is taking us on a walk through a gallery of pictures of people who persevered. And it is as if he is showing us that it is possible to endure- it can be done.
Som look, there is old Noah. Remember him? Well, “by faith, warned by God about the events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household…” You can almost picture the old man (he was after all 600 years old when the floodwaters came): Getting up early every day, working with his chisels, handsaw and planes, toiling, carrying on even as his neighbors thought that he’d lost his marbles. He carried on day-in, day-out, week-in, week-out, month-in, month-out, perhaps year-in year-out. I have no idea how long it would take to build an ark, but it will certainly take me much longer than the average person. The point is clear: Noah persevered!
Ah, and there is Abraham. Now he was old too but he received power to procreate in spite of his advanced age! You remember his wife Sarah, now she was no spring-chicken either. They considered God faithful and therefore they persevered.
Now, when we read the references about these people from the past in the book of Hebrews, what they went through does not sound so challenging. But when you read their stories in the OT, we know that it was a very difficult journey and it called for incredible perseverance!
The interesting thing was that even though they persevered, they kept at it, but they died in faith without having received the promises. They could only see the promise from a distance but they still persevered and that was worth their struggles.
You may have noticed it. Time plays an important role in the author’s writing. Every now and then he mentions time.
So, Abraham and Sarah they were too old, it was almost too late for them.
Look at Moses. He was hidden in his little ark by his parents for three months after his birth. Now, most of us would have glanced over this timeframe. Until we realize that three months are about 6 and half time the 2 weeks of quarantine some people had to do during Covid! It is a very long time to persevere!
The same Moses, when he was an adult, chose to be ill-treated by the Egyptians instead of enjoying “the fleeting pleasures of sin”. His ill-treatment, on the other hand, was certainly not fleeting but he too persevered!
Remember Jericho? For 6 days they marched around the city once. And on the seventh day the Israelites walked around the city seven times. Once again, we glance over it but it took an effort- a big one.
There are many more examples. It is almost as if the author is thinking that our biggest temptations and weakness in life have to do with time! The biggest test and the biggest threat for our faith are linked to time – waiting – for days, weeks, months, and years- waiting-not seeing, waiting -trying to hold out-getting tired-losing enthusiasm.
All athletes know how easy it is to start a race. Your enthusiasm is high, your energy levels are good, you enjoy the first few miles. This is how it is when things are going well in our lives, when our faith feels strong, we find joy coming to church, and praying, and we even enjoy the journey with people we like and love. During times like these it is easy to feel calm and confident, joyful and filled with trust, hope, and enthusiasm.
The problems and challenges come later. Once the excitement of your faith-journey wanes, the loneliness, the doubting, the crises, and questions set in. After days, weeks, months, years of waiting, the real test comes. That is when we will see if we are going to remain faithful, whether we will persevere!
The author of Hebrews in Chapter 12: 2-3 presents us with one more example to help us in this endurance event: Jesus. He endured the cross, he disregarded its shame, he endured hostility against himself from sinners! He persevered to the end and is now on the right hand of God. He did it – for us, so we should not grow weary or lose heart!
Last week the author reminded us that our faith has to do with many Kairos moments, every day, moments where we have to make decisions on a daily basis. But this week he is saying that our faith also has to do with weeks, months and years. And the question is not how we started, but how we will continue and how we will end this journey.
Now the author’s call for people of faith to endure by using the image of a long-distance athlete, is not to discourage or threaten people. On the contrary, the author wants to encourage us and strengthen us for our marathon. He wants to inspire us.
It is true that he is urging us to be like a marathon runner, running the race, not giving up. He is urging us to say: “No! I am not going to give up! No, I am going to finish the race”.
But he is also pointing out that we have friends on the journey who encourage us, by saying: “You can do it! It is worth it! Keep going!” They are supporting us by reassuring us: “You can do it!” And then he provides his best argument why they can persevere: Jesus persevered and he too is helping you!
Notice how often the author is saying: “God and Jesus are trustworthy!” Hebr. 2:17: “Jesus is ….a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people”, Hebr. 3:2: Jesus “… was faithful to the one who appointed him..”, Hebr. 10:23: “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he has promised is faithful”, and Hebr. 11:11: “… he considered him faithful who had promised”. This is the same theological point in Hebr. 13:8 that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
It simply means that God is faithful and his faithfulness helps us to be faithful too.
We are encouraged, we are comforted, and therefore we can persevere. Because God is faithful we too will be faithful. Even if and when there are times when we feel we cannot or don’t want to continue, we are assured that God will always continue with us! We can always rely on God. We can always trust God – for time is not a factor for God. Our problems are not too big for God. When we become fatigued, when we feel disheartened, and overwhelmed, we are reminded that God does not tire, God does not become overwhelmed, weary, or distracted. God is faithful, and reliable.
This is true even when there are times when we don’t see it, or experience it. God is and remains faithful. When months and years go by, years of worrying and feeling tired and waning enthusiasm, or little faith, we can know that God is faithful. God has us in God’s arms, we are safe.
God does not tire of us even when we become weary and tired. Let me remind you of Sarah. She was tired, and without much hope. She was at the end of her rope. She did not see any sign of God or God’s promises. As the years went on, she lost hope. She did not expect any surprises from God. So, when Go promised her a son, what did she do? She laughed! A cynical, hopeless, and perhaps even a sardonic laugh. After all these years, there was no longer any laughter of joy in her. All that remained was a disappointed, unbelieving, sarcastic, and skeptical laugh.
But then, God, in God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness changed her cynical, sarcastic and skeptical laugh into a laughter of joy! Isaac’s name literally means laughter. And over the centuries Isaac became the witness of God’s trustworthiness. God stayed faithful to Sarah even when she had lost her hope.
So, even when we become tired and cynical, God is able and willing to turn our cynicism into joyful laughter!
At the end of day, it is not about our success or failures, our achievements or talents. It is all about God’s faithfulness that enables us to continue- to persevere. It is about God’s grace and mercy.
And because God is trustworthy, gracious, merciful and loving, we should lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely. And we should run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith!
Yes, it is worth it to continue. It is possible to continue even if, no, not if but when it gets difficult and difficult for a long time. Why? For God is faithful. Amen.