The Founder and Perfecter of Our Faith

Hebrews 12:1-3


Jesus: The Founder and Perfecter of our Faith

Eric Liddell was a Scottish Olympic Gold Medalist runner, rugby union international player, and Christian missionary to China. At the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, Liddell refused to run in the heats for his favoured 100 metres because they were held on a Sunday. Instead he competed in the 400 metres held on a weekday, a race that he won. He returned to China in 1925 to serve as a missionary teacher. Aside from two furloughs in Scotland, he remained in China until his death in a Japanese civilian internment camp in 1945.

Liddell’s Olympic training and racing, and the religious convictions that influenced him, are depicted in the Oscar-winning 1981 film Chariots of Fire,

He had a famous quote that he is known for:

“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

Eric Liddell

But one of his better quotes was the following:

“It has been a wonderful experience to compete in the Olympic Games and to bring home a gold medal. But since I have been a young lad, I have had my eyes on a different prize. You see, each one of us is in a greater race than any I have run in Paris, and this race ends when God gives out the medals.”

Eric Liddell

The last several weeks we have been considering the lives of many heros of faith. It may feel as if you have been in a museum merely watching history. But, as we get into this passage this morning the author of Hebrews takes his readers from looking at faithful men and women of the past and squares them completely on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is there race that comes into focus and it is one of endurance. Let’s look at this text in 3 simple points:

  1. The Example of Past Saints (1)
  2. The Endurance of Present Saints (1,2)
  3. The Examination of Faith’s Pioneer and Perfecter (3)

The Example of Past Saints (1)

The focus at the end of chapter 11 changes from the focus of these faithful saints who endured throughout their lives, to that of the Hebrews. Notice the text says several times in these couple verses “let us”. It is no longer “them” but “we” and “us”. The author is identifying with them, that he is one of them. It’s no longer past tense, it’s present tense. Just as the saints were looking in the Old Testament towards Christ in the new covenant so the Hebrews were coming to an understanding that what Christ had provided in the new covenant was superior and supreme to anything they’re known before. And so, the saints in the past and the saints present in the first century were to gain encouragement in Christ. They (the OT saints)(11:40) would not be made perfect apart from them (the Hebrews of the first century) So, starting in verse one of chapter 12 the author says “therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses… The author of Hebrews is encouraging these first century Jewish believers that they are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. The word used here for witnesses (μάρτυς mä’r-tüs)is the same word from where we get the word martyr. These men and women (named and unnamed) of chapter 11 are referred to here as a great cloud of witnesses. In other words, these witnesses are numerous. The author of Hebrews is clearly referring to the gathering of the Greek culture around particular competitive sports, mainly that of a long distance runs. As a cheering crowd seeks to encourage competitors in a race, so the author of Hebrews is seeking to encourage these first century Jewish believers that they too are running. There are some characteristics of those who have run before them and the author mentions them here. The first, is to lay aside every weight. Just as runners in their day competed with very little clothing if any at all, so the author here is encouraging that generation to put aside things that would prevent them from running their best. Things were to be laid aside so as to not be encumbered in running the race that was before them. Notice that right after this, it says to also lay aside “sin which clings so closely,…” And so, this emphasis on laying aside every weight is in addition to laying aside the sin that we will discuss in a moment. So, what the author has in mind here is not just sinful things but anything that would distract weigh down or otherwise encumber a faithful competitive race. Just as a runner would not wear a fur coat or jeans, so those who run this race of faith were to take note of the things around them that would seek to distract from their purpose. What non sinful things distract you? What I am speaking of here is not bad things but good things that distract from the best things. Just as we budget our money so we have to budget our time. What are the things in your life and mine that are weighing us down? This passage is encouraging us with the example of the saints to lay those things aside so that we might wholeheartedly follow Jesus unencumbered by life’s worries. In fact, we could look back in chapter 11 for such examples. Perhaps we give to much attention to sports. Perhaps entertainment distracts us from running the race with endurance. Perhaps your crazy busy schedule is suffocating you. Maybe the interests of your children or grandchildren. I think you get the point, it can be anything! If it is weight lay it aside! In addition to laying aside every weight the author does mention here “sin which clings so closely.” It seems here what the author has in mind it’s not just individual sins (which most definitely would weigh us down) but perhaps the sin which so easily entangles. So what is the author referring to? The ESV here does not include the definite article. The KJV translates better here “the sin”. What what sin would the author be trying to point out? Well it seems clear from this entire epistle that this sin referred to here is unbelief. Or as Calvin puts it “He is not speaking of the external; or (as they call them) the actual sins, but of the fount of sin itself, that is the lust which so possesses all of us that we feel that we are held by its snares on every side.” Is this not so true of every generation? Did we not see this in the last chapter as we consider these men and women who are commended for their faith? Is not the sin of unbelief overcome by faith? In your reading of the Old Testament you can see their sins and failures so well! And so, a life of faith is not just laying aside things that will weigh us down, but laying aside our sinful tendencies in everything we do. The sin of unbelief is crouching at the door and its desire is for us. So, the Hebrews were to follow the example of the past saints in their faith to lay aside these things that ensnare but it also is a call to endurance for them and us. 

The Endurance of Present Saints (1,2)

“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,…” It is no longer the race of the saints of old that is in focus but theirs! In continuing the comparison between athletic competition and the life of faith, the author speaks of endurance. This is no walk, this is a run! And this is not just any run, it is a certain kind of run. It is a long distance run, a competitive run. The focus here is not our fellow competitors, but rather the emphasis is on the kind a running that is needed to not just compete in a race but finish. Any runners in here? Endurance is difficult isn’t it? It is a hard word. It almost brings an anguish just to hear it. In some translations this word is translated patience. In other words, there’s a constancy, a steadfastness, a perseverance, a patient waiting on the Lord for what He will accomplish in and through our lives. The word endurance is not just mentioned here but also in verse 2 and 3. Verse 2 and 3 referring to what Jesus endured but here calling believers to endure just the same! How often we get discouraged, tempted to throw in the towel, overwhelmed by our seemingly lack of success. For many, the weight of past failure slows a run to a walk. The call to endurance is one not given at the beginning or the end of a race, but in the midst of it. Church, we are called to run like this! We are called to patiently endure whatever life throws at us. Sure, not all of us will have identical lives. But, we are all called to endure by faith. If we are still sucking wind we are not done yet! Naturally speaking, we can say to those who are young pace yourself for a life of faith following Jesus to the end. To the middle-aged, we may say that these are the years to keep going and to not give up. To the older, we may say this is the time to set your minds to finish well. And to those around us who are not believing in Jesus we are inviting them to start in the race and run! But, spiritually speaking, the life of faith does not always follow a natural age process. For some, a life of faith is short-lived humanly speaking. Take Stephen for example in the book of Acts. He had come to faith in Jesus Christ and in just a few short years was murdered for that same faith. Others, like Moses lived a long and faithful life and finished his race. So, it could be said that endurance is not a matter of the quantity of time invested, but the quality of it. They endured. Will we endure? The exhortation is to keep going. 

      For many of us, being competitive, we try to compare ourselves with others. But just as is the case of laying aside hindrances, each person’s race of endurance looks different. This should encourage us. you may recall from John 21 when Peter asked about John‘s future and Jesus’ reply was “if it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” Every year I volunteer to help with an exchange zone in the Blue Ridge relay which is a 208 mile running relay from Grayson Highlands State Park all the way to Asheville. The thing about each exchange zone is that one runner stops, and another runner picks up from that point. No one can run someone else’s race. We are called to run with endurance the race set before us. We may not have to leave our homes for a land we have never been to, but some might. We may not lead millions of people out of slavery but no doubt we will call many to repent and believe on Jesus  so they can experience freedom from sin. And we may not be called to lead people to bring down a faithless walled city but we will point others to an eternal city. We may not stop the mouths of physical lions, but by God’s grace we shall see Christ silence the enemy that threatens to devour us and our faith. We may not be thrown into a dried up well sinking in mud and mire, but we may feel that the monotony of our day-to-day lives does not seem to have eternal significance. And so, we do not compete against each other but rather we take encouragement from our prime example which is our final point: to examine the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith. 

The Examination of Faith’s Pioneer and Perfecter (3)

While the saints before us give an example of patient endurance they are not to be our focus. They are not great but their lives point to the One who is great. Starting in verse two it says that our focus is to be Jesus that He is the founder and could be translated pioneer and perfecter (or finisher) of our faith. Literally, He is carrying us through! We are to simply yield to Him! We have looked at this all along that faith is a gift given to us by God Himself that we might trust Him. Further, we know that those who are His, are those whom he chose in him before the foundation of the world. Without Jesus, there is no faith. He is the author. He is the pioneer. He is the ultimate example of true faith. He humbled Himself and became a man born of a virgin. Although tempted, He lived a sinless life. He brought glory to God through his words and works and lay down His life, taking our sin upon Himself. In the place of our sin He gave us His righteousness that we might be reconciled to God. He died, was buried, but conquered death on the third day appearing to many over a period of 40 days, commissioned his disciples promised he would return and ascended into heaven where He sits at God’s right hand till He is called to return for his bride. So, while endurance is necessary for this race of faith the only way to truly endure and not grow weary or faint hearted is to keep our perspective on the right person: Our author and perfecter. So not only did Christ pioneer or begin our faith but He is faithfully perfecting our faith. He’s not done with us yet, but as Philippians 1:6 says, “He who began a good work in you will also be faithful to complete it.“ So what does this looking and considering Jesus entail? Well, this “looking unto  Jesus” in verse two means to turn our eyes away from other things and fix them on Him. This word translated here “looking” is an intense focused gaze. Notice in verse two and in verse three Jesus’ endurance is also brought into view. His focus, His gaze was upon the will of the Father. What are our eyes fixed upon? When you start to feel discouraged or disheartened identify what you are looking at! Our text this morning clearly tells us where to look. Look to Him! 

     Now, at the end of verse two: “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. 

“who for the joy that was set before him…” this is speaking what the outcome of His accomplished task would be on calvary. Being at the Father’s right hand having secured the salvation of His people.  He was willing to lay aside everything before Him, choosing instead to endure the cross. He despised the shame speaks to His choice to look beyond what He suffered humanly and looked forward to the accomplished work to bring glory to His Father. Death by crucifixion was looked upon as a curse by the Jew and to the Gentile the most humiliating way to die. Jesus despised the shame that would come along with this mode of death, by looking ahead to the joy that would be His with the Father. With Jesus as our example we can be assured that all the evils that we endure will end in victory. Verse 3 says, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or faint hearted.”

Paul said “if we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him.“ In following Jesus we are going to have to lay aside good things for the best things. We are called to endure much taking up our cross to follow Christ but in the end we will see our souls satisfaction: God glorified. So there is no reason to despair, no reason to grow weary, or faint hearted, no reason to give up, no reason to turn back, but rather we are called because of the example of Christ and the saints to run with endurance this race of faith. Keeping our eyes on Jesus examining him, considering him and what He has done. He is not finished with us yet and is continuing to perfect our faith and use us for His redemptive purposes until He returns or calls us home. May we not just endure but finish this race before us and say with Eric Liddell, “And when I run I feel His pleasure. 

Let’s pray.