Life in this world is often brutally painful. Our bodies break down as we contend with disease, injury, and death. Our relationships can be a source of great blessing, but also crushingly painful. Even the physical world lashes out with hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc. And, to top it all off, we are often our own worst enemies—making repeated foolish decisions that lead to guilt, shame, and damaging ripple effects in our relationships, workplaces, etc.

When you look at our world—and your own heart—do you believe chaos is reigning? Do you believe that God is present in the midst of you most painful trials? Consider the encouragement found in Hebrews 12:1-3:

“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. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (ESV).

The final thing I want to consider in this passage is the declaration that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father. This means he is exalted, in the place of highest honor. And it is significant that he is “seated.” This is the posture of a victorious king—seated on his throne, ruling over all, his enemies vanquished, his task complete. Earlier, Hebrews urges us to see that Jesus is ruling over the universe. He upholds everything by the word of his power (1:3). Everything has been made subject to him. Nothing is outside of his control. This is the truth, even though we do not yet see it (2:8).

The last point is crucial. Living the Christian life requires faith because there is still so much brokenness in the world and in our lives. The kingdom of Christ is advancing, but there is a long way to go and much that will not be set right until the new heavens and earth. But in the face of all the existing ills, Scripture urges us to believe that nothing in this broken world is random. Chaos is not reigning—Jesus is, and, having reconciled us to the Father through his sacrifice, he will accomplish his ultimate purpose of preparing us to be with him forever. He is committed to seeing us through to the end of this race. Remember: He is the perfecter of our faith.

Sadly, this race is grueling and filled with snares. We are called to perseverance because the race is hard. But Jesus is lifted up to encourage us. This passage teaches us that as we fix our gaze on him, considering what he endured out of love for us, we are strengthened in our weariness, emboldened rather than disheartened. Verse 4 challenges that we haven’t suffered to the point of shedding blood. The contrast, of course, is that Jesus was slaughtered for us.

So where do we find the power to live differently? How do we cast aside the weight that slows us down and the sin that trips up our feet? By faith, clinging to the hope that Jesus finished the race and is now committed to seeing us through. He is not still running ahead;he has finished. He is now seated, his smiling face, filled with an expression of love, is turned toward us, urging us on at every step.

Hebrews 12 goes on to talk about the painful reality that God disciplines his children. Our trials and temptations don’t reveal his absence, but point, albeit painfully, to his presence with us, the proof that we are his adopted children.

Why do we need to cast these things aside? They are robbing us of joy and slowing us down on our journey home. They make our already arduous path all the more difficult. We are pointed to Jesus’ suffering so that we will know that our suffering matters too. Just as Jesus is lifted up and exalted, ruling over the universe, so there is glory and honor awaiting us as we suffer through the brokenness of this fallen world. We are called to “count it all joy” in the face of trials because God is using them to produce steadfastness and to ultimately “perfect” us (James 1:2-4). Trials turn up the heat in our lives, purifying our faith, of greater worth than gold (1 Peter 1:3-9).

Do you believe that God’s purposes are being accomplished in the midst of your most painful trials? What does it mean to you that Jesus has suffered first and is now victoriously seated, and awaiting your arrival? May God give us the grace to cling to his promises in the midst of the pain of life and to see with eyes of faith the great cloud of witnesses who have survived the race and cheer us on. Above all, may we look to Jesus sitting on the throne, exalted, reigning, and overflowing with love and joy and delight in us.

Updated 5.10.2017

When are you discouraged in your struggle against sin? When our focus is only on what is immediately in front of us—all of today’s temptations and failures—we lose perspective on the big picture and the ways in which God is at work, even in the midst of our sin.

Take a look at Hebrews 12:1-3:

“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. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (ESV).

In my last post, we looked to Jesus as the founder and perfecter of our faith. Now I want to consider in wonder that he went to the cross “for the joy that was set before him.” First, the passage tells us something important: Going to the cross meant Jesus experienced shame. Not only does Jesus identify with us in our temptation, but he even identifies with us in our guilt and shame, though he was personally sinless. He experienced them for us on the cross. 2 Corinthians 5:21 describes it like this: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” He became sin for us. He took all our guilt and shame on his shoulders as he faced the curse of dying on a tree (Galatians 3:10-14). He is able to understand and have compassion for everything you experience—even the pain of your guilt over repeated failures. He knows the reality of your sin and invites you to see him lifted up, bearing it for you so that you are able to walk in newness of life.

What was his motivation? The joy set before him. That joy includes you and me. In my last post, I also quoted Titus 2:14, in which Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” The point of this passage is to consider him as our perfecter, committed to purifying his people. But the whole point in our purification was to make us a people fitted for his own possession. Jesus went to the cross, for the joy of liberating us from our slavery to sin so that we could be his beloved Bride. He has betrothed himself to us, and, as we both await that great Wedding Feast of the Lamb, he is joyfully purifying us in glorious anticipation—even though on our end, the purification process is anything but joyful and glorious!

This truth radically impacts the call to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” (Hebrews 12:1). How? There is a goal towards which we are running. This isn’t mindlessly circling a track until you’ve suffered enough in abstinence from sexual sin. God is not a killjoy who dangles pleasures, only to see us drool. There is a glorious destination in view. One awaits us with a smile brighter than we can imagine (like the sun!), whose arms are outstretched, whose heart is overflowing with love, who delights in us and even sings over us.

We need to cast aside everything slowing us down because Jesus is eager for us to arrive, to offer us pleasures at his right hand forevermore—pleasures that right now, in this existence, with these bodies, we can’t even begin to fathom. He promises that joy, pleasure, peace, and contentment beyond our ability to comprehend await us at the end of this race. He promises we will be satisfied for eternity. Contentment in this life is often fleeting at best. In his presence is “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). The pleasures offered to us in this life are good gifts from a loving God that enable us to glimpse in a mirror dimly the infinitely greater glories awaiting us.

How would your battle against sin change if your eyes were focused on the end of the race? Do you believe that Jesus isn’t holding out on you, but reserving pleasure and delight that will infinitely satisfy your soul at the race’s end?

Updated 5.10.2017

How do you feel about New Year’s resolutions? Do you get excited about ways you can grow and mature in the coming year? Or are you bombarded with memories of all your past failures, all your grand hopes for change that were dashed before the end of January? This passage is in favor of New Year’s resolutions because it challenges us to take stock of where we are in life—and then get moving!

Read the following passage from Hebrews 12:1-3:

“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. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (ESV).

It’s the first day back after the holidays, so we’ll keep it simple. The passage describes the Christian life as running a race. What does this mean? The Christian life isn’t easy. Spiritual growth is grueling, strenuous labor. We are encumbered by “weights” and entangling sin that thwart our progress.

Many men have said to me, “I know what I have to do—I need to put Jesus where porn is in my life.” Theologically this is true. Idol worship needs to be replaced with worship of the true and living God. But here’s the rub: Jesus will never become like porn for you. If it was that simple, none of us would sin. The Christian life is always living by faith, and, as my colleague Bob says, sometimes living by faith doesn’t seem like much. We aren’t tortured for our faith in this country. Faith doesn’t usually produce a runner’s high. Let me tell you: Having spent many years abusing drugs, running the race of faith is not my definition of being “high.” But it is better in the long run.

Do you know why I keep running? Because of how I feel when it’s over. The process is torture, but the end is glorious. Sexual sin lures, promising immediate pleasure, but it withholds the truth of the guilt, shame, wrecked relationships, etc., that always follow. The Christian life is hard, probably much harder than you realized it would be when you signed on. But it’s worth it.

What do I mean? The Christian life is kind of like a runner’s high. After my wife’s passing in 2010, I started taking exercise seriously and began running regularly. I hate to run. But at long last, I experienced the runner’s high.

So, let’s look at three quick things the passage tells us about this race:

1)      The race has an audience. Following the list of Old Testament saints in chapter 11, this passage begins telling us that they are witnesses to the race we are running. They are cheering us on! And, more importantly, they stand as a witness to us that the end is in sight. This race will be over before we know it. They encourage us to persevere, standing as proof that God’s grace is sufficient for us.

2)      The race has been set for us. Your life is not an accident. This includes all the painful trials, temptations, unwanted attractions, etc. You are running a path set for you by a loving God who promises that he is working everything together for your good to conform you to the image of Jesus so that he will be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters (see Romans 8:28-29).

3)      The race has already been run by your Champion. We’ll spend more time in later posts considering this crucial reality. Jesus has already run this road, faced every trial and temptation you face, but never stumbled. He ran the race ahead of us, blazing the trail, and offers us the exact grace we need to face all the specific challenges because he has already endured them for us victoriously.

Are you weary at the start of the New Year? Where do you need to be encouraged? What “weights” are slowing you down? What sins are entangling you? May God give us the grace to look to Jesus and get up and run!

Updated 5.10.2017

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