Palm Sunday March 20, 2016
247, 479, 447, 293
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. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.”
Dear fellow-redeemed by the blood of God’s own Son:
The apostle is talking about running a race. Some of you are in training for running the 26.2 miles of a marathon. You are training your bodies so that you may endure these races. These marathons are so demanding that many runners don’t need a first-place trophy in order to be “winners.” They are happy just to cross the finish line standing up!
Paul writes about a much, much more difficult race—a race that lasts our whole lifetime. When God calls us with the Gospel to faith in Jesus Christ, He places our feet on the starting line. From then on we become followers of Christ to the place of His glory in Heaven. If we are going to cross the finish line, then everything in our lives must give way to this one great goal and purpose. That’s why Jesus tells us to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). That’s why Paul wrote to the Philippians four years before he died, “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
Although many hear the Gospel of Christ and begin to follow Him in faith, most become sluggish, trip over their sins, lose their first love for the Savior, become distracted by this world, and lose sight of their heavenly goal. Therefore, Jesus warns in Matthew 7:14 that “there are few who find” eternal life! Since we all face the danger of not finishing our race, may the words of our text speak to our hearts. LET US RUN WITH ENDURANCE THE RACE THAT IS SET BEFORE US!
If we are serious about this greatest of all marathons, “Let us “lay aside the sin which so easily ensnares us” (v. 1). Our sinful nature that still clings to us is dedicated to sin. That’s why John says in his first epistle, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
How easily that “Trojan Horse”—that box of color, sights, and sounds that sits in our homes—can cause us to lose our sensitivity to sin! How easily we may be drawn into sin by our “smart” phones and the internet! How easily sin may “lie at the door” (Genesis 4:7) as it did with Cain! For this reason Jesus admonished His disciples in Gethsemane: “Watch and pray lest you enter into temptation, for the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
We are to lay aside particular sins which may ensnare us. Perhaps the love of money is secretly growing in our hearts, or the love of pleasure. Do adulterous and fornicating thoughts plague us? Whatever the sin, let us throw it off by repenting and turning away from it in our hearts and seek forgiveness in Jesus’ name. If we do not, sins of many kinds may trip us up in our race to glory! Our text also admonishes every Christian runner to “lay aside every weight” (v.1). There are many such weights, though not sinful in themselves, that may interfere with our running of the race that is set before us so that we do not cross the finish line and obtain the heavenly prize.
For instance, we may become so deeply involved in our business, or education, or our association with friends or family that we pay less and less attention to the most important thing! Do we need to work on Sunday or even every Sunday when the Word of our Savior is offered to us in church along with precious opportunity to worship our Lord with our fellow believers? Whatever “weight” keeps us from seeking the kingdom of God first, let us get rid of it!
Just think of what people are willing to sacrifice for their idols and idle dreams! Eve threw away perfect fellowship with God in Paradise for the serpent’s promise of “wisdom.” Mothers abort their own children in the worship of an idol called “choice.” Hundreds of thousands have been willing to sacrifice their lives in “Jihad” in order to please a non-existent, worthless god, called “Allah”!
We, on the other hand, know the only true God and eternal life! What are we willing to cast away and sacrifice in order to follow our Lord Jesus Christ on the path to Heaven? How can we not join the Psalmist and say in our hearts and lives: “There is none upon earth that I desire besides You, O Lord” (Psalm 73:25)?
Throwing off every weight and the sin that ensnares us is not easy! Running any race is hard work. The Greek word for “race” in v. 1 is the word from which we get the English word, “agony.” The race about which the writer to the Hebrews is talking is agonizing because of the endurance that it requires! This race is not a sprint to the finish line, but a life-long marathon! We need to run steadily and all-out, all of the time!
The Old Testament heroes of faith mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11 did exactly that—they ran steadily, all-out, all of the time. did. In chapter 11 we read about men and women like Abraham, Noah, Sarah, Rahab, and David. Such a “great cloud of witnesses” (v.1) brings encouragement to us, but we need more spiritual water to keep hydrated and finish the race. We need the strength and stamina that only God’s grace can give. Therefore, we are encouraged to “keep our eyes on the Author and Finisher of our faith” (v. 2).
Jesus Christ has made Himself the Author of our faith, not only by redeeming us from sin, but by causing us to believe this Good News by the work of His Spirit. Without the preaching of His Gospel no one could believe in Him at all because faith comes by what is heard, and the message that is heard is the Word of God (cf. Romans 10:17).
But v. 2 tells us that Jesus is also the “Finisher” of our faith. This fact is a great source of strength in our race: Jesus brings our faith to its perfection and completion! Mohammed, the fanatic prophet of Islam, has gained a following of devoted people through the centuries. But this mere man cannot save people from their sins, from death, or the power of Hell and bring them to Heaven! Mohammed could not save himself. How can he save his followers?
But we are to “look to Jesus” who “for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame (of it), and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (v. 2). The word “endure” used in v. 2 to describe Jesus’ suffering is the same word used to speak of our own endurance in v. 1. The cross of torture and disgrace was before Him as He rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Jesus knew He was beginning the last lap of His race to finish our faith and salvation.
How patiently He ran to the finish line. He was patient with His doubting disciples, with His enemies, with the ignorance of His people, with humiliations, and with unbelief! What is our suffering and endurance compared with His? For as the writer to the Hebrews says: We “have not resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin” (v. 4).
Jesus bore the punishment and curse of our sin, even to the depths of Hell on that cross of agony and sorrow. Yet in all our earthly sorrows and trials we are only asked to bear the loving chastisement that our God places upon His dear children (vv. 5-6). So let’s keep our eyes on Him as He is sitting “at the right hand of the throne of God” (v. 2), having finished our salvation and ruling all things for the sake of His believing people!
Why did Jesus endure it all? Why did He willingly and even joyfully go to the cross and the tomb? He did it all in order to redeem us so that we might share His heavenly glory with Him forever! How can we find the words to praise Him or the life to live for Him?
When the feet of our faith feel like lead, when our hearts are as heavy as our legs, and our souls are ready to give up, we must keep our eyes on Jesus! We must consider the “hostility He endured from sinners” (v.3)—hostility from those He came to save. We must see His victory as it is, in fact, our own, for where He is there we shall be also!
Come then, dear brothers and sisters, let us join those Old Testament heroes of faith and run the race that is set before us with patient endurance!
All honor, praise, and majesty
To Father, Son, and Spirit be
Our God forever glorious
In whose rich grace we’ll run our race
Till we depart victorious. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.