Hebrews 11: 32 – 40 and 12: 1 – 2 NLT
“How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. 33 By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35 Women received their loved ones back again from death.
But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
39 All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. 40 For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.
12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”
Sometimes, as Christians, we hope that our lives will go smoothly because we serve God and try to do our best for him. We know as parents, we try to do the best for our children, to make their lives as easy as possible. So then, wouldn’t God do that for us?
Yet when we read these verses today, we realize that a comfortable life is not promised to us at all. Some people accomplished amazing things – although likely with difficulty and a big challenge – as you read the first 4 verses. But then the next 3 verses are quite depressing. People were tortured, imprisoned, made fun of, and had their lives taken away as they had to hide or live in poverty. Yet they refused to turn from God. They were known for their faith. Sometimes I wonder if I would stand up for my faith if I knew persecution would result. I think I would, but I also know I run away from hard things.
Jesus is God, a being with incredible authority and power. Yet, he came to earth as a human being and lived a life in a small town as a carpenter. Then he spent three years travelling around Israel – no home, no financial security, constant harassment from the temple leaders – and eventual horrendous death on a cross prompted by the people he came to save.
We live in a fallen, broken world. There is no guarantee that life will be painless. Living in Canada, we have easy lives in comparison to many other countries. We are not likely to be tortured for our faith. We know that many don’t believe in God and we may be hesitant to talk about our faith to neighbours and co-workers, but we don’t face dire consequences for going to church or our beliefs. We face the many challenges that everyone faces – illness, job loss, broken things that need to be fixed, relationships with difficult moments, etc.
Yet, we can live with faith that God loves us and there is life eternal waiting for us in heaven.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”
Life has been tough over the past two years. Now we are starting 2022 with another wave of the pandemic that seems worse than ever. It’s so easy to get bogged down with depression and anxiety, fear for what the future holds. It looks like we need to “strip off every weight that slows us down” and “run with endurance the race God has set before us”.
Let’s start thinking about how we can share our faith with others. Whether life goes smoothly or hits rough spots, let’s start thinking about how we can serve God in some way. What project can we get involved in over the next year? As Pastor Brian challenges us over the next couple of months, how can we help LSA become a welcoming place for everyone? Start thinking and praying – Father, what do you want me to do? How can my faith be an encouragement to others?
Our song for today is Sovereign by Chris Tomlin. It’s a live production so there is a spoken introduction by Chris Tomlin.