Running to the Finish

Running to the Finish

“Running to the Finish”

(Hebrews 13:15-25)

Series: Captivated by Christ (Hebrews)

Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD

Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson

  • Please turn in your Bibles to Hebrews chapter 13.

While you’re finding that let me take a moment to remind you of Alan’s last Sunday as Minister of Music next week and the reception afterwards.  You’ll want to get him a card or gift card or something like that.  By the way, wasn’t that a great article on Alan in the Gleaner?  Thanks to our own Kevin Patton for writing that tribute.

While we are looking for a worship pastor in the coming months, you may wonder what happens until then, what does worship look like each week?  We want the interim time to be as smooth as possible so one of our ministers will be stepping up to provide some leadership until a new minister is hired.  You’ll be glad to know that Brother Jacob Clutts is going to step into that role on the 13th—continuing to do what he’s doing in student ministry, but also providing some extra leadership as our interim worship pastor, so that Sunday services continue seamlessly—and you’ll also be glad to know that Alan supports Jacob’s serving in this role as well, and that means a great deal!

This is just temporary.  That’s what interim means.  It’s only until we find a new full-time worship pastor.  So Jacob will continue to serve as Minister to Students during this interim time and student ministry will carry on largely as it has.  In fact, Jacob’s done a great job developing and multiplying leaders in student ministry so that he’s able to step into this interim role for a season.  He’ll continue to be available to students and parents so student ministry will continue to be exceptional—and our worship services will continue to be exceptional!

  • Okay, have you found Hebrews 13?

We are wrapping up our series of messages through Hebrews.  This is the last message and I alway feel a bit sad as we finish a series.  It’s like saying goodbye to an old friend.  

We’ll be starting a new series of messages in a couple weeks, verse-by-verse through the Book of Nehemiah.  The series is: REBUILD.  We trust God to do the work, whether He’s doing the work of rebuilding a fractured wall or a fractured soul. Nehemiah.  Looking forward to that study in a couple weeks.  But first, we finish Hebrews.

The key verses of Hebrews are Chapter 12, verses 1 and 2 where the writer refers to the Christian life as a race.  And he encourages us to press on as Christians, persevere through hardships and difficulties and setbacks.  Don’t stop!  Keep moving!  Keep running the race!  Hebrews 12:1-2:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 

Keep running.  Don’t stop.  If you fall, get back up.  And get back in the race.  It’s not about how many times you fall.  It’s whether you get back up and keep running and finish.

Some of you have seen this video clip before.  Heather Dorniden a few years ago, running the 600 meter race.  What an inspiration!  The video is a little grainy, but there are some words to guide our understanding as we watch.  Check it out:

Video Clip [Running the Race]

That’s the Christian life right there!  You may have fallen a time or two, but get back up.  Keep running.  Let us run with endurance the race set before us, looking unto Jesus, keep your eyes on Jesus, be “captivated by Christ,” the author and finisher of our faith.  Amen.

We’re in the last chapter of Hebrews, chapter 13, we left off at verses 13 and 14:

13 Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 

14 For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. 

We talked about that great truth: that while this world is passing away, if we’re “in Christ” we have a city that continues on forever.  So don’t fall in love with this world, don’t give up on Christ when suffering hardship, don’t turn your back on Jesus when the going gets tough, keep looking unto Him as you run the race, be captivated by Christ!  “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.”  Praise God!

  • Alright we pick up at verse 15 now.  Let me invite you to stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.

15 Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.

16 But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

17 Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

  • Let’s just stop right here and pray and we’ll treat the remaining text in the sermon: “Dear God, give us more grace to love Jesus more than anyone or anything.  In His name we pray, amen.”

Since the Christian life is a race and since the writer has been on about this for some time now, persevering, continuing to live our lives faithfully to the end, just as Heather Dorniden faithfully finished her race, I’ve entitled the message, “Running to the Finish.”

At the top of your notes you can put the words: As I run to the Finish Line… or, As We run to the Finish Line…here’s what we will do.  Three main actions.   First one is kind of cool given the author’s stress on the end of animal sacrifices, especially back in chapters 8-10.  No more dead animal sacrifices, but offer living sacrifices.  So:

As You Run to the Finish Line…

  1. Offer Sacrifices that are Living [15-16]

The author mentions the offering of sacrifices in verses 15 and 16.  Before we read these verses again it is clear that he does not have in mind the old sacrifices under the old covenant—quite the contrary!  He’s not talking about old dead animal sacrifices, but living sacrifices.  This is like the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:1, “I beseech ye therefore by the mercies of God that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”  Living sacrifices.

The sacrifices required under the old covenant, handed down by Moses, were sacrifices that accomplished a kind of temporary forgiveness.  That’s why they had to be repeated.  They could not fully or completely atone for sin.  You’ll recall the writer says in:

Hebrews 10:4, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.”

God prepared His people for the coming of the Ultimate Sacrifice, the Lord Jesus Christ.    The animal sacrifices of bulls, goats, and lambs, foreshadowed, or pointed forward, to the Greater Sacrifice to come.  As His cousin John the Baptist said when he saw Jesus in John 1:29: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  So the writer has been making the point that animal sacrifices are no longer necessary.  Jesus Christ is here!  So these are sacrifices that are living in verses 15 and 16:

You can break them down into two main sacrifices, one per verse, singing in verse 15 and sharing in verse 16.  Or more specifically: continual praise and continual generosity.  First: Offer the living sacrifice of:

  1. Continual Praise (15)

15 Therefore by Him let us continually (that is, in contrast to the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ that is not repeated; let us continually…) offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.

Giving thanks to His name with the fruit of your lips, singing, like we’ll sing again in a moment in our song of response.  Continual praise may be in song or in statement, but it means to proclaim our allegiance to the Lord, to thank Him, to glorify Him.  Rather than pouring out the blood of an animal sacrifice, we pour out our sacrificial praise to God.  Continually.  Even after we leave the worship service.  Continual praise and thanksgiving to God.  Second kind of living sacrifice is:

B)  Continual Generosity (16)

16 But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

It’s one thing to say or sing, “Praise the Lord,” it’s another thing to give generously in the Lord.  True worship is not just our closing our eyes and feeling good about ourselves in the Lord.  It is that, to be sure, but it’s more than that, much more.  

Remember that Jesus summed up the entire commands of God by saying we’re to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength—AND—what?  Love our neighbor as ourselves.  So it is two-directional.  Love vertically up to God, and horizontally out to others.  “Do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”

These things “please God.”  These actions bring joy to God!  And in the giving we also find joy.  Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive.  More blessed; more joyful.

J Vernon Mcgee, “The Lord Jesus is up yonder at the right hand of God—that is where He is as Head of the church—but His feet are down here right where the rubber meets the road.  He wants Christianity to be in shoe leather, and He would like to walk in your shoes.”

So how can you “walk this out,” offering the living sacrifice of continual generosity?  By sharing of your treasure, time, and talents.  Treasure.  Giving.  Bringing the tithe to the Lord.  Tithe means 10%. Ten percent of our paychecks. Tithing isn’t a bill.  Tithing is a blessing.  It is a worship experience.  Tithes and gifts given through the offering are the means by which God finances the work of ministry.

The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is another way to offer the living sacrifice of continual generosity.  Every penny we give to this offering goes directly to international mission work all over the globe.  By the way, get your financial gifts in by New Year’s Eve!

Generous giving of our treasure, of our time—just spending time with people.  Going to grab a coffee with someone for disciple-making.  Remember our vision: “We exist to develop generations of God-glorifying disciples who make disciples from the community to the continents.”

Generous giving of our treasure, our time, our talents—using our talents and abilities to bless others; musical gifts, teaching gifts, like teaching a Sunday school class, serving, greeting, sharing the gospel this week, showing hospitality to strangers.

As you run to the finish line, offer sacrifices that are living.  Secondly, as you run to the finish line…

  1. Be Submissive to your Leaders [17-19]

The writer calls for the church to submit or follow the leadership of their shepherds, pastors, or ministers.  And in two ways, by obeying them and praying for them.  Look at verse 17:

  1. Obey Them (17)

17 Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

A church without leaders is chaos!  And leading is not always easy.  It’s much easier to watch than to lead.  It’s easier to “backseat drive” or “armchair quarterback,” questioning the decisions or motives of leaders.  So the writer says “obey those who rule over you.”  

God has called ministers to lead the body of Christ.  Our church governmental structure is minister-led, deacon-served, committee-operated, and congregation-affirmed.  So minsters lead, the pastor leading as first among equals.  We’ve got a great ministerial team.

Ministers are those who “watch out for your souls as those who must give account.”  We each of us will give an accounting for our leadership before the Lord Himself.  It’s a sobering thing for each minister to consider.  This is one reason why the writer asks for prayer.

“Let them do so with joy and not with grief,” literally, “not with groaning.”  Ministry can be demanding and exhausting.  At times ministers are like, “aahhgrrrhh!”  Let minsters watch out for your souls with joy and not with “aahhgrrhh!”  He says, “for that would be unprofitable to you.”  

Choose to assume the best of the motives of those who lead.  Unless they have violated your trust, follow them.  Unless they have taught heresy, follow them.  They are God’s chosen leaders to minister to and through the body of Christ.  It doesn’t mean your ministerial staff are perfect.  And everyone said, “Amen!”  By no means is any minister perfect, but neither are you perfect.

Church membership is about connecting to a local church and following the leaders of the church as the church is empowered and equipped for ministry.  Leadership is important.  And so is follow-ship!  Resist the secular American tendency to be only loosely affiliated with a number of organizations, like a self-centered “church-shopper” merely tasting what different churches offer them, like a man picking over items at a buffet, avoiding accountability to members and ministers.

The church is not a buffet of items at a restaurant, items for you to pick over to feed yourself, smiling upon some and frowning upon others.  The church is more like a bunch of servers in the restaurant, where each member is gifted to serve one another in ways that make God smile, because ultimately we all serve Him.

By the way, know that the next First Steps New Member Class & Luncheon is coming up in a couple weeks.  There’s a picture on the back of your bulletin.  January 13.  This is for folks interested in joining the church or getting more information about the church.  It’s a one-time class and the next one won’t be until Spring so register online today.  Go to our website and it’s the very first banner that appears.  Looks just like the picture on the back.  Click on it and register from the free class and luncheon.

  1. Pray for Them (18-19)

18 Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably.

Our ministerial staff appreciates prayer!  Please keep your prayers coming.  If one of us hurts you, practice Matthew 18.  Don’t gossip and talk to others.  Go directly to the person who offended you.  It’s always wise to help your brother or sister by telling them to go directly to the person like Jesus taught. 

We appreciate your giving us the benefit of the doubt.  But we also acknowledge that we are sinners and often make mistakes.  We need your prayer.  

19 But I especially urge you to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.

The writer seems to have a close relationship with the Hebrews.  He asks them to pray for them, for the leaders and adds, “that I may be restored to you the sooner.”  The writer most likely had some kind of pastoral relationship with them.  He wishes to see them soon.  

As you run to the finish line, offer sacrifices that are living, be submissive to your leaders, thirdly now:

  1. Be Strengthened by the Lord [20-25]

The strengthening that the Lord does in Christians is seen in verses 20 and 21.  The writer is talking about what the God of peace does for us.  The God who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead (verse 20), is the same God who (verse 21 now), “makes us complete in every good work to do His will, working in us what is well pleasing in His sight.”  

And that phrase “make you complete,” unlike in other places in Hebrews, does not refer to the completing of our salvation, but to the equipping of our souls to live the Christian life as God intends.  It is God’s providing the strength we need to run the race. 

20 Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,

Verse 20 is the only explicit reference to the resurrection in the entire Book of Hebrews.  It’s been implied in previous texts, but this is the first time it is mentioned in an explicit way.  And that is largely because the author’s stress has been on the ascension of Christ and His current work of intercession as He reigns at the right hand of the Father.

And the writer references in verse 20 “the blood of the everlasting covenant,” this is the new covenant we studied a few chapters back.  Unlike the old covenant which has run its course, the new covenant is an “everlasting” or “eternal” covenant.  It lasts forever.  It will never become obsolete or need to be replaced or repeated.  Speaking in grammatical terms: what Christ has done for us is not a comma, but a period.  Better still, an exclamation mark!

And the writer refers to Christ in verse 20 as “that great Shepherd of the sheep.”  It’s kind of cool to me that there are three different references to Jesus Christ as shepherd.  He referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd.  I mentioned that yesterday in a funeral as we studied the 23rd Psalm.  Jesus in John 10 refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.

Then here, the writer refers to Jesus as the Great Shepherd.  The Great Shepherd of he sheep lives and intercedes for the sheep.  Remember Hebrews 7:25?  He “always lives to make intercession.”

Then in 1 Peter 5:4, Jesus is referred to as the Chief Shepherd who returns for the sheep: “and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.”

Always caring for His sheep, the Eternal Shepherd caring in past, present, and future:

As the Good Shepherd He dies for us

As the Great Shepherd He lives for us

As the Chief Shepherd He returns for us

Past, present, and future, or as the writer put it earlier: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  Amen!  Verse 21:

21 make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Again, this phrase “make you complete” has to do with God’s providing us the strength to do His will.  It is similar to Paul’s teaching in Philippians 2:12-13, it is God’s work that makes human work possible. God works in us, strengthening us to live for Him and to do what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ.”

The strength to please God is provided by God Himself.  We work, we run, we strive, we persevere, but we don’t do it in our own strength.  Christianity is not a religion of self-help or self-effort.  Christianity is the working out of what God works in us.  God strengthens us to do His will, bringing pleasure to Himself as we run our race.

You’d think the writer’s done, but he’s like every preacher: he’s always got something else to say!  Verse 21 and following is like a PS:

22 And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words.

“I have written to you in few words” may mean that he had much more he wished to say.  Recall, for example, back in chapter 5 when he said with reference to Melchizedek “of whom we have much to say…(Hebrews 5:11).”

Or, remember when he was describing the glory of the earthly tabernacle in chapter 9?  He said, “of these things we cannot now speak in detail (Hebrews 9:5).”

23 Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly.

Timothy, interestingly the only Christian mentioned by name in the entire epistle!  Timothy apparently had been imprisoned, but we’re not told where nor why.

24 Greet all those who rule over you, and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you.

“and all the saints” suggests there were small groups or house churches meeting throughout the city.  That’s an inference, to be sure, but why else would the writer say, “Greet…all the saints” if not because not all were present at any one time the letter was read?

And then, “those from Italy greet you.”  Given that Rome was where this letter was first known and quoted, my guess is the audience was in Rome and the writer is writing either from some other location in Italy or abroad and is passing along the greetings of their compatriots, “those from Italy greet you,” and then this word of grace in verse 25:

25 Grace be with you all. Amen. 

What a great way to sign off!  May grace, God’s unearned favor, God’s rich blessing of favor in Christ, may grace be with you all, amen.  

As we prepare to respond to the Word today, I want to invite you to receive Jesus Christ as the One who is better than anyone or anything.  If you’ve been clutching to other gods, let go if them in repentance and take Christ!  Remember that the distinct feature of this letter has been the continual lifting up of Christ as the One who is better than anyone or anything.  The words “better,” “more,” and “greater” occurring 25 times in the letter.  Jesus is better!

Be captivated by Christ.  Continue to “fix your eyes on Jesus” as you run the race.  It requires constant diligence and effort.  We have to continually re-calibrate and re-focus throughout the day, looking unto Jesus again and again.

It’s so easy to fix our gaze elsewhere.  How many times do we pull out our phones and look at them?  Seems like every time we have a break, pull out your phone and look at it.  Waiting in line?  Pull out your phone and look at it.  At a stoplight?  Pull out your phone and look at it.  Waiting on your order at a restaurant?  Pull out your phone and look at it.  What if—instead of continually looking at our phones all the time—what if we continually looked at Jesus throughout the day?  Waiting in line?  We close our eyes and look to Christ.  At a stoplight?  Look to Christ.  Throughout the days of the coming week, looking to Christ, re-calibrating, re-focusing our lives by looking at Jesus, being captivated by Him.

He is better than anyone or anything!  And at the end of the day, and at the end of our lives, all we have is Christ.  But because we have Him we can run the race with endurance, looking unto Jesus who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross for us.

All we have is Christ.  So we’ll gladly go outside the camp and bear His reproach this week because “here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come…”  No matter what happens to us—persecution, suffering, setbacks—you can get through anything, because all you have is Christ, and when you have Christ, He’s all you need.

We’re going to sing that song in a moment, “All I Have is Christ.”  Before we do, listen to the song and watch this animation on the wall:

Video Clip [All I Have is Christ]

Now stand and sing and respond however you need to respond.

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