In running, they talk about the phenomenon of “hitting the wall.” It is the sudden fatigue and loss of energy that comes from using up all the nutritional reserves stored in your body. Maybe you hit the wall because of a mountain of debt or the unexpectedly poor results of a medical test. Perhaps the constant conflict in your family leaves you feeling drained and hopeless. Maybe your spiritual life feels desert like and you find yourself running on empty.
The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we are in a race. His message in 12:12-17 is that in order to finish the race, we need to run hard in the company of others and remove the obstacles that threaten to trip us up.
He begins verse 12 with the simple word, “therefore.” He is connecting his instructions with what he said previously. In verses 1-3, he explained that we are to run the race of the Christian life with our eyes on Jesus. Now, he says that we are to finish the race. In between (4-11), he explains that we are to accept God’s discipline in order to grow. By using the athletic metaphor of being in a race, it helps us understand how and why God uses discipline in our lives—to help us run and finish well.
Run hard in the company of others (12-14). His first instruction in verse 12 speaks of personal responsibility. When we feel worn out, run down, discouraged, and ready to give up, we need to renew our strength. Keeping our focus on Jesus and understanding God’s purpose in discipline will help invigorate us. We also need to abandon fear and despair and keep running.
However, we are not to run alone. We need to remember and practice the “one another” commands found in the book. In so doing, we will be able to help those who are weaker than we are.
We are to run hard after peace and holiness. The natural tendency when we are in the midst of trials is to look out for number one. Instead, we are to strive for peace with everyone. That does not mean we will achieve peace with everyone, but it should be our goal. We are also to pursue holiness. We are to cast off sin and press hard after holiness.
By doing these things, we can rest assured that we will arrive at the finish line. We will see the Lord when we step into his presence.
Remove the obstacles that threaten to trip us up (13, 15-17). Like a road grader smoothing out uneven ground, so we are to remove the obstacles that cause us to sin. The author gives four specific obstacles to get rid off—gracelessness, bitterness, immorality, and worldliness. A person might miss out on grace because of unconfessed sin, a lack of God’s word in their life, or being absent from church. One can develop a bitter spirit through continued anger, unforgiveness, nursing grudges, or always complaining, “It’s not fair!” Bitterness will poison not only your heart, but those around you. Pursuing sexual satisfaction outside the bonds of a husband-wife marriage will trip one up as well. In addition, a worldly attitude of instant gratification can lead to deep heartache and regret. That was the experience of Esau who traded away his inheritance for a single meal.
What obstacles are holding you back from spiritual growth? Have you given up and stopped trying? Are you trying to do it on your own? Are their broken relationships or unconfessed sin in your life? Are you experiencing a spiritual famine because you stopped reading God’s word or attending church? Are you struggling with pornography or having an affair? Is your heart filled with worldly desires? If your answer is “Yes” to any of these questions, then confess your sin and repent.
If you want to finish well, then renew your strength, run hard, run with others, and pursue peace and holiness. Remove any and every obstacle that is tripping you up and hindering you from moving forward.
Remove the obstacles. Run hard with others. Finish well!
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on November 24, 2019. It is part of a series of expository sermons on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.