Sermon, 10th Pentecost, Sunday August 18, 2019
Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2
By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.
By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.
By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
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, fixing 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.
I would like to meet a few pioneers. I would like to meet Robert O’Hara Burke of ‘Burke and Wills’ fame, or infamy. I would like to know what the man was really like.
I would like to meet Edward John Eyre, the first person to cross this vast continent from East to West.
I would like to meet John McDouall Stuart who pioneered the centre of this country and all his long dangerous pioneering journeys, never lost a man.
I would like to meet Vincent Lingiari of the Gurinji nation who became the leader of the birth of the Aboriginal rights movement in 1966 at Wave Hill Station – “From little things big things grow”.
I would like to meet Mary Helen MacKillop, first Australian to be sainted by Rome. Not that I am into that whole ‘sainting’ process, since all who are baptised into Christ are God’s holy people. But with faith in Jesus, she did significant things when it was hard to do so.
What if one day you did meet a pioneer. Not one like these but someone who had pioneered your life. Unbeknown to you, this person had already seen your life; lived your life, been where you are going, and was here ready to share with you what is to come to you – the good and the bad.
Maybe you’d like to know what your career, your contribution, your family’s future would be. You probably would not want to know about the hard things, the suffering things – illness, dying, failures, hurts, regrets, mistakes….. Maybe you would say to this pioneer: “Ignorance is actually bliss. Don’t tell me anything!”
The writer to the Hebrews speaks of a Pioneer of life and your life, and will not let you be blissfully ignorant! He talks at length about THE pioneer of your faith and life and shares this catalogue of those who have lived life in faith in The Pioneer.
This is like looking at the faces of your family in the photos along the hallway or on the mantel piece or on your computer.
There are seventeen photos that tell the story of faith. Faith is mentioned twenty times in this one chapter.
Why does this writer show us the hall of faith photos?
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.
He shows you the photos of your life to urge you to ‘throw off” things that hinder you and hold you back from receiving the life Jesus pioneered for these people of the past and has pioneered for you.
These stories point you to, remind you of, and inspire you on toward the goal of your life so you can truly live the life he has blazed for you now.
These people and their stories sustain you in your suffering, your pain, your questions, your fears and doubts and struggles to stay on the trail already blazed through all these.
What are these things we need to throw off? They are essentially one thing: a lack of trust in Jesus’ grace and power for living a (Hebrews 12:1). “Get rid of them!” he calls.
- Lack of love for each other in the church (13:1)
- Lack of hospitality and welcome of strangers among us (13:2).
- Over-reliance and over-attraction to glitter of money and wealth and things, the result of which is a lack of compassion and care for people in need (13:3, 5)
- Lack of respect and faithfulness between marriage partners, the result of which is sexual promiscuity and a lot of pain (13:4).
- Lack of care and respect for those called into leadership in the Body of Christ, the result of which is disunity and lack of love in the Body (13:7).
- Being carried off course by teaching that is not Christ-centred; gospel founded, grace hearted; the result of which is a lot of unnecessary rules and a judgemental spirit among people (eg. food laws) (13:9-10).
- And just plain hardship and suffering, even injustice as outlined in this hall of faith and what happened to God’s people (11).
What are your hindrances and how can you ‘throw them off”? Sounds like hard work!
Here’s the good news. It is not all on you to do the hard work of de-tangling, throwing off and getting rid of stuff that keeps you from living in the joy of Jesus’ freedom in your life.
Jesus is not only the pioneer of your life of faith, he is the creator, sustainer, ‘perfector’ of your life of faith (Hebrews 12:2). He is the one who throws these things off you to give you clear air and clear pathway. He wants you to get there with him.
How do you know? “Look at all these photos of faith!”, says the writer. “Look at those who have gone before you to see that Jesus is everything you need and everything good you will receive.
The writer has already spoken long and strong on just how BIG Jesus really is. He is the ultimate prophet, greater than Moses; the ultimate ruler, greater than David, the heavenly place of worship, the ultimate high priest and pastor. Jesus sacrifice of blood in our place is the ultimate sacrifice that achieves full life, once and for all people and all time.
But we are still on the journey with Jesus to our complete joy with him. So, this Christian life is not tourist travel. It is ‘a long obedience in the same direction’, as the author Eugene Peterson once named it in a book of that title.
It is not as if we can just cruise through this life saying we are “Christians” without throwing off anything or struggling to get free of entangling things. Saying ‘Yes’ to Jesus automatically means saying “No” to a lot of other people and things.
There are real inward desires that hinder us. There are real outward pressures that scream for our attention. There are real dangers from false teaching to fake news to flawed hearts and minds that rob us of the joy Jesus longs to share now and later on.
I need help. I need you to help me throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles me. I need your help to run with perseverance the race marked out for us all, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
Friend, meet Jesus, that pioneer here for you today. He has seen your life and your death and your new life forever. He knows the trail and he is the water that keeps you alive. He has been where you are going.
Look at the photo of the family of faith. Hear these people of old who longed to know Jesus the promised Saviour, whisper their encouraging words for all you currently face.
Better still, have laser focus. “Fix” them; fix your eyes on the Pioneer and Perfector of you. Help me do the same as I help you do the same.
Hear him in his Word most days in your home or at work or walking along the oath. Seek his counsel from a fellow traveller about that thing hindering you. Receive forgiveness for that troubling sin, here or one on one. Try some prayer practices again. Give generously and welcome fully. Be here. Receive him in the meal and in all the words done and said. See him in the faces of your fellow travellers here and everywhere.
He meets you on the trail today to let you experience the joy set before him. It is your joy too – today and tomorrow.
“O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in his wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.”
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