Sermon: Keep Your Motor Running

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward. Now he is seated in the place of highest honor beside God’s throne in heaven.” Hebrews 12:1–2

Intro:

  • According to surveys, January is a tough month for many people: holidays over, weather, New Year’s resolutions
  • Treadmill gathers dust, diets fade away, Bible reading plans slip
  • If it’s hard to keep goals for physical things, how can we keep our motors running in our Christian life?
  • This passage gives us the tools we need to keep running the race day to day.

I. Understand Where You Are

  • First, need to understand where we are. Writer has given us an image that’s familiar even to us.
  • Great crowd/cloud of witnesses – refers to the rows upon rows spectators watching a sporting event, like clouds billowing up in the stands.
  • Who are they? Hebrews 11 those who lived on purpose through faith in the coming Savior; not just passively watching but give us proof that imperfect people can make it (not really moral examples, but examples of living from faith)
  • Scripture encourages us, but also helps us understand our true, in-our-face spiritual condition

II. Throw off What Holds Back

  • Strip off every weight, especially the sin that holds us back – back then ran in a much more “natural” way.
  • Sin makes us uncomfortable because our society teaches us not to admit our moral failure (improper relationships, misspoke). But Jesus gave a moral imperative to “sin no more.”
  • Living on purpose for Christ means calling sin what it is—sin. That is, confessing it. Daily, if need be.
  • “Why are you so angry?” the LORD asked [Cain]. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you respond in the right way. But if you refuse to respond correctly, then watch out! Sin is waiting to attack and destroy you, and you must subdue it.” Genesis 4:6–7
  • “For the honor of your name, O LORD, forgive my many, many sins. Who are those who fear the LORD? He will show them the path they should choose.” Psalm 25:11–12

III. Follow the Path God Made

  • Run the race with endurance – it’s a long-distance race, not a sprint
  • Running the mile in middle school (show off, then walk and complain) vs. high school (grade depended on it, ran smart).
  • Mindset matters for runners (won’t meet a champion marathoner who complains every step), and even more so for following Jesus
  • When we get rid of hindrances, we’re running in the path God laid out for us. (Ephesians 2:10)
  • You don’t have to figure it all out. Just go with the running lane that God opens up. (Blockers in football)

IV. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

  • Keeping our eyes on Jesus on whom our faith depends – He set the example for us to follow (do God’s will, help the helpless, receive the prize)
  • Think about why you’re following Jesus each day, your motivation:
  • Your own efforts won’t sustain you.
  • Approval from others won’t keep your motor running.
  • Our faith is meant to be a day-by-day realization of God’s love for us and ours for Him—a deeper and deeper understanding of the gospel and a steady transformation. Progress in the Christian life is a road paved with passion.
  • “And all of us have had that veil removed so that we can be mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him and reflect his glory even more.” 2 Corinthians 3:18

Conclusion

  • The word for witnesses in Greek is “martyr.” All followers of Jesus are called to die—die to self.
  • Jesus said following Him is like picking up a cross, a symbol of death, and going after Him each day.
  • Not easy. But He’s made a path for us, He shows us the way.
  • You can keep going. In this race, God intends for us to win as He molds us each day.
  • “I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.” Philippians 3:14

The Missing Beatitude?

[A sermon excerpt]

After Jesus is baptized and gathers up John the Baptist’s disciples, He later heads to Galilee, which at that time was where a large portion of the Jewish population lived. Matthew 4:23-25 says

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

At this point, Jesus is famous, rather than infamous. He’s healing, He’s teaching, and He’s gathering a lot of groupies. I say that because most of these people are simply following the buzz. There’s something new, Someone who claims to be Messiah. Their devotion is shallow and self-centered.

But this Guy makes them happy. I mean, He’s healing their broken bodies and creating a stir.

It’s at this very moment that Jesus does something quite astonishing—but only if you imagine it from their perspective. He preaches a message that is completely contrary to what these groupies had been hearing all their lives. The Pharisees and Scribes had been telling them how to please God, and Jesus points to this group of religious experts and basically tears them apart.

Look down at Matthew 5:21 and following. You’ll notice that Jesus says things like “You have heard it said…” over and over. Who said this? The Scribes and Pharisees. So, when you think of what we call the Sermon on the Mount, remember the context. Jesus is not talking into a vacuum; He’s talking into the teeth of years and years of legalistic tradition. He’s telling these groupies not to be like the spiritual leaders of the country, not to ignore the teaching of God for the traditions, the decisions, of humanity.

Now, I’ve said all that to help us get down deeper into what comes at the beginning of His sermon: the Beatitudes, which is a fancy way of saying “the blessings.” You know the ones I mean: “Blessed are the blank.” It’s interesting to note that another way to say “blessed” here is “happy,” and some Bibles have that. So, when you read the Beatitudes, think of Jesus as pointing out to the crowd what happiness means, God-happiness instead of the religion-happiness of the Pharisees (and us as well).

I hope you’re familiar with these beatitudes, and if you’re not, you really, really need to dig in and study these, as they can transform your walk with Christ. But for the sake of time, let’s just do a quick summary: blessed/happy are 1) those who mourn, 2) the meek, 3) those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 4) the merciful, 5) the pure in heart, 6) the peacemakers, and 7) the persecuted and reviled.

That is an amazing list, a list that could only come from God because it is so contrary to everything that we put stock in. How many CEOs of big companies would claim that mourning and meekness and mercy and persecution led to their promotion? How many poor, reviled Christians from India or China become international celebrities? The point is that this list is not going to get you very far in the world’s way of doing things.

In addition, I want you to notice the missing beatitude. Okay, I know that none are really missing, since Jesus said exactly what He wanted to say. The gospel writers present exactly what God wanted us to know. But too often we—even Christians—live as if there is a missing statement here. And if I had to put words to it, I think it would go something like this: “Happy are you when you do what makes you feel good because God wants you to be happy.”

That’s not the way it works.