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Living by faith (9)

Run the race with endurance

Scripture Readings

  • 2 Chronicles 20:1-12
  • Hebrews 12:1-12

Introduction

Dear friend in the Lord,

The Bible teaches us about the reality of the demon possession. I believe it is a state of the soul which we will see increasing as our society become less Christian and more anti-Christian.  Demon possessed people are tormented by satan in different forms: it can be illnesses, hallucinations, personality disorders, psychological pathology, and all sorts of dreadful things.  When such a person hears the irresistible call of the Gospel and find new life and victory in Jesus Christ, it becomes a truly life-changing event.  Evil in his life is defeated by Christ, Jesus sets him free and on his face appears a smile instead of the grimace of unspeakable torture.

For such a person life becomes a song in comparison with his old life.

On the other hand, for the person who has had some church background, or for the one who does not always think about religion, life is fairly simple – on the surface, any case.  He is not concerned about the purpose of life, and although he might hear the voice of the Lord through the witness of Christians, hell doesn’t worry him and heaven is the proverbial pie in the sky when you die.  Such a man does not get the devil’s interference in his life either – at least on the surface.  Satan is happy with him being in fools paradise.  Because he does not believe in hell, the devil does not exist and whatever sin his commits, it does not bother him – at least on the surface. We know there will be a day that all of us will appear at the judgement throne of Christ.  It will be too late then too start being concerned about these things.

Having said all these things about non-believers, in a sense something of what is true about the non-believing atheist, can be true of some Christians:  they might have come to Christ some time ago, but there is no joy-generating peace in their hearts.  They are neutral, or as the Bible puts it, they are not warm, neither cold.  They might have chosen to be Christian because it promised to be easier, at least on the surface.  Such people do not experience much opposition from the devil either, because their inactive and unproductive Christian life is no threat to his business. It reminds us of the words of Our Lord: “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47)

A huge crowd followed Jesus after He multiplied the bread and fed five thousand at one go.  Jesus then said:

Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” (John 6:26, NIV)

When later they heard that Jesus is the Son of Man, demanding from them that they believe in Him as the One whom the Father sent, they turned from Him and went home.  Some of them might even have been there when they shouted, “Crucify Him!” Jesus then looked at his disciples and asked:

You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. (John 6:67, NIV)

Because they were enabled by God to know right from wrong, Peter, on behalf of the rest said:

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68–69, NIV)

When Jesus healed the demon-possessed man in the region of the Gerasenes, he pleaded with Jesus to henceforth walk with Jesus, but our Lord said:

Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” (Mark 5:19, NIV)

This that man did, and I am sure he faced much opposition.  Remember, they begged Jesus to leave their area.

This man understood that he a race to run.

We have a race to complete

When we come to Jesus and follow Him as disciples, life indeed changes.  We are set free as we understand that Jesus Christ took our punishment on Him and came out the other end victorious over death, hell, sin and satan.

We are then not placed on the pavilion to watch the race in front of us; no, we  only have our seats booked in the pavilion when we die in the Lord, the race completed.  As saved sinners we become runners.  With single-minded, committed runners in this race with Christ, the devil is most unhappy.  Life becomes a bit risky as be actively became participants in the battle against evil on our way to heaven.

Like the demon-possessed of Mark 5, we turn around in our tracks, do what Jesus commands us to do and face a hostile world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I know of so many Christians who attended church for all their life without being aware of a race or a battle to be won.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. (1 Corinthians 9:25, NIV)

Therefore he says:

I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. (1 Corinthians 9:26, NIV)

He uses other metaphors to describe the same thing.  First, that of a soldier:

Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. (2 Timothy 2:3–4, NIV)

Then that of an athlete:

Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. (2 Timothy 2:5, NIV)

Then an example we should know well:

The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. (2 Timothy 2:6, NIV)

The point with the last is the farmer that does not work for the joy of the moment, but for the joy of the harvest.  Be tween planting and harvesting there is no rest; and sure enough, there is a lot of hard work, lots of worry, and much more at stake – but the joy of the harvest outweighs it all.

My dear brother and sister, why do we follow Christ?  What made us decided to become one of Him?  Are we aware of our serious calling to complete the race?  Are we fit for the race?  Do we even exercise for to be on the track?

I received email from a friend this week.  He writes:

There is a severe crisis in our churches. Most of our people are ignorant of history, and have a very superficial grasp of Scripture. As a result, many professing Christians are compromising, cowardly and ineffective. Our churches are filled with weak, worldly, lukewarm and inactive members. The salt has lost its flavour, and all too often the light is being hid under a bushel.

May I encourage you with the words of the old song:

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle see His banners go!

We have encouragement to complete the race

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us (Hebrews 12:1, NIV)

We sometimes see on TV how the athletes start clapping to see the crowd following them in rhythmic clap as they prepare for their high jump or pole vault.  There on the pavilion sit those who love them, who have seen them develop from a struggling athlete to a champion.  Parents might be sitting there, but most of all, the trainer is there too.  He was most probably an athlete himself and therefore he knows the obstacles very well.  To get his encouragement means the world. When there is not immediate success, his ongoing encouragement and coaching might just lead to the gold medal one day.

Do we still know the excitement and fear of a bouncing heart as we run the race of a Christian, maybe telling others about Christ?  Listen, in the crowd on the pavilion sits Noah who to deal with godless people too.  He preached righteousness to those who were exceedingly sinful.  Take heart, he ran the race and completed, so can you.

Jesus said:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26, NIV)

Is there perhaps something that you find so difficult to lay down at the feet of Jesus that you can’t complete the race.  Just for one moment, look up into the pavilion and search for Abraham:  he left his country, his people, and his father’s household and went where the Lord showed him the way.  And when God demanded of him his only son, the one he loved, the one God promised would be his heir, he took the baton and an the race – and he completed it.  So can you.

Jesus said:

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? (Luke 14:28, NIV)

Are you afraid that you might not be able to pay the cost of discipleship.  Are you afraid that you might not succeed?  Look up in the crowd and look for Moses.  Of him the Bible says:

He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. (Hebrews 11:25–26, NIV)

He ran the race and he completed. Take courage from him. Follow and trust the Lord like he did.  He did it by living by faith.  So can you.

Have you prayed so many times that you would receive proof of your faith, that it is indeed worth the while to keep on going on, and yet there is not much to show.  You feel alone and discouraged.  Look into that crowd and search for Joseph.  Remember how he encouraged his own people to not give up, even though they had to wait about 400 years?  Remember he only had a box of dead bones to show for what he really believed in, and yet he said:

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20, NIV)

He understood to fix his eyes upon Jesus and wait for a faith that is sure of what he hoped for, certain although he did not see.  Take courage from Joseph; he ran the race and completed it – so can you.

Do you feel that you are closed in by the enemy, especially now that you have become a disciple of Jesus Christ: your friends don’t like you anymore, your family and relatives think you have lost it, and on top of it, the devil is not happy with the way you live: he is all over the place with temptations, discouragements, lies, accusing you of all sorts of things, trying to get you to give up.  Listen, do you hear the voice of Moses in the crowd:

“Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:13–14, NIV)

We need to be fit to run the race

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1, NIV)

Jesus said:

No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:62, NIV)

Paul says:

Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:26–27, NIV)

It is not only sin that can hinder to run with perseverance. Surely, sin makes us limp, exhausts us, destroys valuable energy and it eats into our time we should dedicate to the service of the Lord – yes it makes us “offer parts of ourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness”  (Romans 6:13, NIV), therefore Paul exhorts:

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. (Romans 6:12, NIV)

These things, the author of Hebrews 12 says, entangles us and hinders us to run the race with perseverance.

Remember the Pilgrims Progress?  How many obstacles did he have on his way, and how many did he see fallen by the wayside because they gave in to sin?  But there were also those who listened to well-sounded advice, not sinful by definition, but good enough to entangle.  There are things we can get involved in that might not be outright sin, but it surely drains our energy and makes us pant for oxygen.  We sometimes suffer severe cramps in our spiritual muscles because of a wrong diet and the lack of exercise:  in many cases there things are not defined by what we do wrong like sin, but rather by what we neglect to do:  In my young days playing rugby, how many times did I have to sit and rest because of this dreadful stitch in my side, hardly able to breath, precisely because I did not have the stamina to breath when I needed it most.  O, we need to be discerning in what we allow in our lives which keep us from being spiritually fit for the race.

Regular study of the Word, regular private prayer, prayer with our family, prayer with our church family make us fit.  Add to that regular worship and fellowship with other believers, and regular spiritual exercise of witnessing for the Lord Jesus Christ.  Throw into the mix regular service to others in our community, and financial contribution to the work of God.

We have Someone who have already run, who promises victory

… fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2, NIV)

The language of this verse has the race in mind.  At the starting line we hear our hearts pumping like mad; we look at the other athletes, but we look to the one next to us:  He is Jesus – He is the beginning, or the author or the pioneer.  He is with us at the starting line.  He says victory belongs to Him.

We look up and see the lanes getting narrow towards the tape at the winning post.  There, at the winning line, we see the face of Him we already know.  It is the face of Christ, waiting for us to finish the race – He is already there, in his hand He holds the winning cup and the gold medal.  It belongs to Him but He wants to share it with us.

The clap of the pistol gets us going and all along, with hearts beating madly, lungs scrambling for oxygen, and muscles burning with determination we look to our side and find Christ running with us, cheering us on, pointing us to the winning post and the crown.  I look ahead down the lane and find Him with the prize in his hand, my name engraved on the cup that belongs to Him.  And I think: He’s been here, He endured, and He won.  It gives me new strength, and I once again get going, my eyes fixed on the end of the race.  If I give up, I’m out.  It is only when I get there and finish the race that I will get the prize.

Conclusion

We are in a race.  We need to complete it with perseverance.  On the pavilion we have all those who completed the race, and beside us we have Him who takes our hands and makes us share in his victory.

Jehoshaphat, as we read this morning, together with the people found themselves in the midst of a battle.  The king went on his knees before God and prayed:

We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” (2Chronicles 20:12)

The answer came from the Lord:

“This is what the Lord says to you: Do not be afraid or discouraged becasue of this vast army.  For the battle is not yours, but God’s.” (2Chronicles 20:15)

Do you just want to go and sit and watch the race?  Not possible, you have to finish the race first.  Just don’t give up!

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 18 November 2012

 

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