Motivation for Life’s Race 10/1/00

Hebrews 12:1-4

“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” (Hebrews 12: 13).

JESUS CHRIST is our worthy example. A appropriate goal of life is to be like Him.
If you wish to be disappointed, look at others.
If you wish to be discouraged, look at yourself.
If you wish to be encouraged and experience victory, look to Jesus Christ.

Athletes are objects of admiration and veneration globally. As Christians, that is, Christ partisans, let us by looking to Him; the ultimate one deserving our devotion.

Nations of the world send some of their finest athletes to compete in the Olympics. The Sydney games are the largest Olympics ever. They are larger than the Barcelona, and Los Angeles games combined. Athletes came from over 200 countries. We Americans can better understand the enormity of the size of the games by comparing it to hosting 10 Super Bowl Games a day for 17 days.

However, ancient Rome offers us an example of competition on an even larger scale.

The ancient Romans conducted contests in the Circus Maximus built by King Tarquin Priscus about 500 B.C. The arena was 700 yards in length and 140 yards wide. It consisted of three tiers. Before being expanded by Titus it seated 150,000. He enlarged it to seat 250,000. Later in the Fourth Century it was expanded to seat 385,000. Their water sports were conducted on artificial lakes. Whole flotillas contended. Fleets of ships with more than 19,000 seamen fought to the death in these contests.

Nearby Emperors Vespasian and Titus built the Flavian amphitheater known to us as the Colosseum because it was erected near the colossal statue of Nero.

In the 120 days marking the dedication of the Colosseum 12,000 animals and 10,000 gladiators died therein.

Come with me and enter the Colosseum!

Notice that special enlarged seating area. It is the place for the Caesar known in Latin as the “podium,” meaning “place of honor.”

On your left is the great arch of the PORTA SANAVIVARIA, “the Door of the Living.” Soon the procession of the gladiators will enter through it.

On your right is the PORTA LIBERTINA, “the Door of the goddess of corpse.” Through this arch the corpse of the fallen warriors will be dragged with hooks.

The parade of athletes is always a stirring moment. Enter the gladiators. In cadence they chant as they have hundreds of times: AVE, CAESAR; MORITURI TE SALUTANT!” “Hail, O Caesar; those about to die greet thee!”

How could they do it with such a sense of satisfaction?

They did it because they believed Caesar was divine. He was their god and they were willing to die for their god. What an example! What a challenge to us to live for our God. To live “looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”

The expression “looking unto Jesus” means to be dependent upon Him for inspiration, support, encouragement, and strength.

There is a magnificent work of art that depicts a beautiful young woman in the arena being stalked by a hungry lion. She is stooping to pick up a single rose thrown into the arena at her feet. As though oblivious to the presence of the lion, as she stoops to pick up the rose, she is looking up into the stands for the one who loves her and tossed the rose.

Like her we must look to Jesus for our hope.

Part of the promotional theme of the Para-Olympics in Atlanta was “faith is a decision.” Won’t you make faith in Christ as Savior and Lord a decision. That means to profess your dependence upon Him to forgive your sins and give you new life. Look to Him for salvation and as the source of strength for life.

Into the Colosseum there began a march of a different kind of people. They bore the name of their benefactor, their God. They were mockingly called “Christians,” meaning “Christ’s partisans” or “belonging to the Christ.” That was their primary reason for being there. They refused to swear allegiance to any one but Christ.

The procession of devotees to Christ continues today.

Explore our text for insight and inspiration. It speaks of:

The “great cloud of witnesses” is a reference to the persons listed in chapter 11. The word “witness,” MARTUS, means one who bears witness by death. A casual reading of Hebrews has led many to think of these “witnesses” as heavenly spectators observing us earthlings. They are not noted as observers but as examples. They are witnesses in the sense they bear testimony. Their earthly lives are testimonies to the fact God will see you through.

They are not simply depicted as being in a stadium observing our acts to be inspired thereby, but to inspire us by their action. It is as though those who have gone before us are shouting words of encouragement. “God enables us to be winners. He will do the same for you. Don’t quit.”

By their lives they testify to the fact God is faithful.

Weights is a reference to things that are not necessarily sins but they are hindrances to spiritual victory. They are things that restrict us like an athlete’s warm-ups would be a restriction in competition. They are to be taken off.

There are some things that are neither good or bad, but neither are they helpful. Remove them from your life. A good athlete doesn’t choose between good and bad, but better and best. A “weight” is anything that weighs us down, diverts our attention, saps our energy, or reduces our enthusiasm for Christ. Notice reference is made to “the sin which so easily ensnares us…” “The” means in every life there is an area of weakness. Satan desires to exploit it. As an athlete works on any area of weakness so we must know our area of vulnerability and work on it. Control it.

Now comes the basic nitty and fundamental gritty of the race.

A. AN EXHORTATION = “run with endurance”
Almost anyone can enter the most difficult race. It takes endurance to finish. The Bible is full of stories of people who started the spiritual race and didn’t complete it.

John Mark who started on the missionary journey with Paul and turned back.

Demas of whom it is written, “Demas, has forsaken us having loved this present world.”

To endure and run to win requires:
DETERMINATION. Make the decision to compete for Christ.
DISCIPLINE. Submit to His life-long disciplines.
DEDICATION. Resolutely be dedicated to stay the course.

B. AN EXAMPLE = “looking unto Jesus”
Jesus Christ is the ultimate witness. He ran the same race course of life you are running. Verses 3 and 4 describe His racecourse:

“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” (Hebrews 12: 3, 4).

“Looking unto” describes an attitude of trust. It speaks of a continuous attitude that prevails, not just a single act.

As Christ was motivated by pleasing the Father so we should be motivated by pleasing Christ. Then all that the Father was to the Son the Son will be to us.

Verse 3 contains the appeal to “consider Him.” That is, analyze your own life as compared to Christ.

To “consider Him” means to take Him into account and concentrate on Him; focus on Christ. Keep Him in mind.

He is the source and sustainer of our hope.

Come back to the Collosseum again. Hear the echo of the chanting gladiators, “Ava, Caesar; morituri te salutant.”

Let the two vast arched doors represent the door of eternal life or spiritual death. Through which will you enter into eternity?

Today, this very day, let’s take an imaginary walk into the arena.

There in front of the podium you will see a white cross erected around 1300. It bears this inscription: AVE CRUX SPES UNCIA, “Hail to thee, O Cross, the only hope!”

The many who died there had faith stronger than the hatred of those who killed them.

The cross which was in their day the symbol of their suffering is now the symbol of their victory.

The fallen faithful are part of the “great cloud of witnesses” that testifies: “The Lord is my helper, I will not fear. What can man do to me” (Hebrews 13: 6).

For them the Colosseum was merely the foyer to heaven.

“Since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Hebrews 12: 28). They served God as martyrs to demonstrate God’s sufficiency in the worst of circumstances. Historians record many gladiators were won to faith in Christ by the
radiance on the faces of the Christians.

In Christ we are more than conquerors.

“Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

The expression “more than conquerors” translates the word “hyper-nikemos.” “Hyper” means “super.” The word “nike” means “victor.” In Christ we are more than winners.

We are eternal victors.