Run the Race
Austin Duckworth
Hebrews 12:1-2
November 04, 2017

Good morning! For those of you who may not know me, my name is Austin. Well, even if you do know me, I'm still Austin. Not pastor Steve, so sorry if that disappoints any of you. However, if anybody here is happy it's not pastor Steve, we won't go there this morning.

Instead we're gonna go running. But not really running, because I don't do that. In fact, as a side note, if you guys ever do see me running, try to keep up because there's a very good chance that I’m like being chased by a bear, or my wife. I'm just kidding. I don't run from her, and playing dead doesn't work either. So side note, guys. Put that in your pocket. Save it for later.

Seriously though, I may not be a runner in a traditional sense, and many of us may not be – some of us probably do – but when we read Hebrews chapter 12 we discover that as Christians we are all running the race of faith. So let's go ahead and turn together to Hebrews 12, and we're going to look at verses 1 and 2, and I'm reading out of the English Standard Version here.

“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. 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.”

Thank you Father for this word, and we just ask God to open our hearts and our minds to what you have for us today. Amen.

So open right up here. When we read “therefore”, what is the obvious question? What is it there for? Let's say it refers back in this case to the previous passage, in which the writer of Hebrews gives us an extensive list of Old Testament faith giants. So we'll go back. You guys don’t have to turn to 11; we'll just kind of go back to take a quick look here, at who it is that made this list. And we're not gonna get real into it, but verse 4 talks about Abel who, by faith, made a more acceptable sacrifice than his brother Cain. We see Enoch who, by faith, pleased God and was raptured out of here. Never even tasted death.

Noah built an ark. We have Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and list goes on. Names I think most of us are pretty familiar with. And this great cloud of witnesses is – they are witnesses in the sense that they set an example for us. They’re overcomers. Believers. Runners of a race that we, too, have been called to run. This race of faith.

So what examples did they give us? How exactly did these witnesses run? That's the same way the text tells us to run. Let us also, meaning as well as, they did. Those who are examples did lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely. And that's our first point right there.

We run without hindrance.

So picture this. Boston Marathon, right? You got runners gathered at the starting line. They're all ready to go. They've been practicing. They're anxious and excited, and here I come. As we all know, I'm not a runner. See, I'm decked out in jeans, work boots. I got a jacket; might be chilly. Backpack in case I want a snack, you know.

You guys picture that in your head. Is there any way I'm finishing that race? All decked out with all this extra weight, right. That's a pretty ridiculous scene. Even if I were a runner, I'm not gonna be successful running this race. So you know what do I need to do? Just boom. Just drop it, lay it aside. Get rid of all that unnecessary weight in order to run that race to the best of my ability.

The race of faith is no different. Anything in our lives that hinders us from running to the best of our ability is a weight. Might not necessarily be a sin. There's a difference there. The weights hold us back; the sins cling and bind us.

Could be a distraction. Could be a worry. Might be getting your focus off. Maybe your priorities are out of whack. Anything, really, that keeps you from looking to Jesus and keeping your eyes on Him is a weight. And sometimes we can carry weights without even realizing it. That could be an issue as well. And sometimes even things done with good intentions, if they're done outside of the will of God, could be a weight. It could hold you back from what God has in store for you. Right.

So aside from the weights, we also have sin that clings so closely. Or, as the NIV puts it – and I really like this word here, a great word – entangles. I like that word because of the vivid imagery of that. It entangles you, and it snares you. You’re trapped. That's not a good thing!

It's not… You don't want to be entangled in something. I mean, I've never heard a couple of newlyweds say, “Yay! I was just entangled in marriage!” You know, I hope I never hear anybody say that.

You don't see somebody sitting on a beach in Hawaii going, “Man, I'm so entangled in this vacation!”

So entanglement is something that: it'll take you out of the race. It's a sin. It will grab you. It can trap you. It'll hold on tight. And I've heard it said, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you can ever afford.”

That's an entanglement. That is something that would take you out of the race.

I don't know if anybody here is familiar with Cliff Young. I only recently learned about him. In 1983, Cliff – he’s a 61 year old farmer from Australia – and he entered what many consider to be like the hardest ultramarathon in the world. It is a six to seven day, 544 mile (I can't even imagine that) race from Sydney to Melbourne.

Here comes this guy. People could not believe it! He shows up there. He's wearing his overalls. He's got his rubber mud boots on. You know. Picks up his race number, and joins the rest of the racers.

Cliff is 61 years old. He's like twice the age of all the other runners out there right now. They see this. They say, “He's crazy!” They told him, “You're never going to finish this race.”

They had all trained and prepared for this race for, like, the past year. It's an annual race, if I remember right. And here comes this old farmer, looking like he just got done bringing the cows around for milking. And you know, maybe he had. I don't know. What they didn't know is that Cliff had been training for this race his whole life. Maybe unintentionally.

What Cliff would do, is he would spend days on end running after sheep and cattle on his farm whenever it stormed and they got out. They didn't have horses. They didn't have, you know, four-wheelers or anything. He'd have to go, on foot, chase these animals down, bring them back in. A lot of times you'd go for days on end without sleep.

So what seemed like hindrances to these other racers: his age, his seeming lack of experience, those were nothing to Cliff. Those were not hindrances to him. He intended to run that race his way. This is what he was doing. He knew what he was doing, even if nobody else did.

Just the same way when it comes to sin, there's something I struggle with that you don't. Something you may struggle with that I don't. You know, vice versa.

We are told to lay aside that sin which is a weakness or an entanglement for us individually. That which ensnares and clings so closely. Since we are running our race. I'm running my race. You're running your race. And that'll be point number two there.

Run your race.

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. So let me go back to Cliff Young for a minute. We'll take a trip back here to Australia, 1983. Cliff was running his race. He didn't care with the other runners, the media, any of the sponsors – they had Nike sponsors out there. All these people that are, you know, promoting and getting their names out on this, in this huge race. He didn't care what they said.

In fact, Cliff didn't even run. I tried to find a video, but he kind of shuffled. It’s kind of a lot – looks like a speed walk, I guess. And so when the race started, those are the races, they just they took off quickly, left Cliff in the dust. Now typically, in this six-plus-day marathon, what these runners would do is run about for 18 hours a day, and then sleep for about six hours at night. Get up, start all over again the next day. Cliff didn't know this.

He wasn't one of the runners. He's running his race. He was running in his way. Day and night, he just, he ran on. He just kept going. You know, like he was chasing sheep on his farm. He was just running, or shuffling. While the other races slept, you know, here comes Cliff just shuffling on.

By the fourth day, he had passed the other runners and won the marathon. Not only did he beat the record for competing – not only did he win, but he beat the record for completing the marathon by two days! So, you know, he ran the race his way and was very, very successful doing so.

That was his race, and he owned it.

The thing is, when a runner enters a race, we can't just decide to – well, we don't determine the course of our race. You know, we don't always know where the race is going to take us. We can't just say, “Well, I'm gonna cut across this field here. Take a little shortcut, and you know maybe I'll hop in a cab, and nobody'll notice. And I'll just hit that finish line, and pretend I ran the whole way.”

Not that I would ever try that or anybody here. But we can't. We can't just determine our own race. We run as it's been set before us. As Christians, we know the One who sets our course. We know it's God.

God sets our course for us, but it's up to us to run it. It's our race to run. God knows where our individual races will take us. We may not. He does.

And I'll tell you, I never could have guessed in a million years where my race would take me. And I'm bet I'm not alone in that. So, certainly hasn't always been an easy race. And many of us in here, I'm sure, can say the same.

Often times maybe it feels more like, like an Ironman competition. You know, one of those decathlons, where there's multiple challenges. It's more than just running. Sometimes you’re climbing walls. Crawling through mud. Swimming across lakes. And we don't always have the benefit of knowing which task comes next.

The best we can do is put our faith and hope in God that He knows and He will take care of us. And, run the race as God set before us. It's our race.

So what track has been set before us? You know, what is what is my race? What is your race? Whatever it is, it is your race to run. Or shuffle, if you're like Cliff.

You know, and like looking back at the cloud of witnesses. Moses's race. That was a wacky and crazy race! It led to the Promised Land, but he had to go through some stuff to get there.

Joseph's race. Joseph’s the very same thing. Betrayed by his brothers. Thrown in prison on false accusations. He stayed faithful to God, though, and ended up basically running Egypt.

They had their race. They ran it. Nobody could run it for them. Nobody can run my race but me. Nobody can run your race except for you. And when we look at these a cloud of witnesses we see everyday people that were open to being used by God wherever their race of faith took them. Right?

They were common people, like you and I. They ran their race successfully because they had their eye on the finish line. They stayed focused on the goal. They had their faith in God. They ran their race, and that's the third point there.

We run with a goal.

Now the interesting thing about the Cliff Young story. Cliff did not run that race to win a prize. In fact, he didn't even know there was a prize for the race. I think it was a $10,000 award for winning. He took that money and split it amongst the other racers. He did not run it for the, for the money. He didn't even care about that. He, for him, running the race and finishing the race was the goal. He was running his race. That's what he wanted to do.

So we as Christians. What is our goal and what is our motivation? What keeps us going in this race of faith? I want to look at verse 2 again here.

“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.”

So for us. Our goal, our motivation, is Jesus. We look to Jesus. We look to Him because He alone ran that race perfectly. He alone could even possibly run the race perfectly. And not just that, but He ran it for us. As an example, yeah He was. He's our ultimate, you know, goal.

But as the text says, He ran it for the joy set before Him. He ran it for us. We are that joy. He knew His race would lead to the cross, right, but for us He was willing to endure that. He knew the joy of victory.

The ultimate outcome of His race was in providing reconciliation and eternal salvation for us. He ran the race God set before Him for you. He ran it for me. He ran it for all who would come to Him and share in His victory.

And we have that great cloud of witnesses. Hebrews 11 tells us, I mean, a list of names. I encourage you guys to go back and look through it. Awesome chapter on faith and how these people ran their race. And they serve as examples and encouragement as we run our race. But that's not our focus.

Our focus needs to be on Jesus. We end up, when our focus is on Jesus, we end up running towards the One who is, as the verse says, the founder and perfecter of our faith. Jesus's entire earthly life was the embodiment of trust and faith in God. God the Father, He had complete and total faith in Him.

And that faith existed from before creation even. Before the Earth was formed, Jesus was there with God, living together in complete and total faith and trust.

And in running His race to perfection, Jesus has allowed us to partake in that perfect faith, too – and I'll take that over $10,000 prize any day! Especially if I have to run from Sydney to Melbourne to do it.

As Christians, when we're running our race of faith, our focus should be Jesus who is our ultimate example of how, when the race gets hard, when our faith is tried, right when we feel like we just cannot keep running. We can have total trust and faith in God. Like Jesus portrayed for us.

A little bit earlier than I intended, but that's alright because we have communion. I'd like to end by reading 2nd Timothy. You guys can turn there with me if you like. We're gonna be in chapter 4, verses 7 and 8.

This is Paul speaking to Timothy. “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid out for me the Crown of Righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day. And not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

Now, Paul knew that his time on earth was going to be coming to an end when he wrote these words.

We're still running our race. We have not finished our race yet. I'm running mine. You're running yours. But let us share in Paul's hope that we have, laid up for us as well, a crown of righteousness that God will award us with on that day. The day our race is ran, and we cross that finish line into perfect faith. Let that be our hope, but Jesus be our goal.

We run this race. It's our race to run. We run it without hindrance. We follow the examples of Hebrews 11. We follow the examples that Jesus set out for us, and we run this race. The race of faith that we have been called to run. Each and every one of us.

So I'm going to go ahead and close in a quick prayer here while we'll have communion.

So Father, I just thank You for the scripture that You've given us, Father. I asked for each and every one of us, God, that You help us to run without hindrance, Father. Help us to lay those weights and sins aside, Father. Help us to run this race that You've called us to run, God, and help us to keep Jesus our focus and our goal. God, and we just praise You and ask that You bless the rest of this day as well. Amen.