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Enduring the Race August 15, 2010

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Hebrews 11:17-31; 12:1-3

Proper 15

August 15, 2010

 

Goal: That the hearers more faithfully endure the race of life through their Savior Jesus Christ.

 

You probably noticed a common thread in our Epistle today.  The Hebrews passage gave us a number of examples of faith in the Old Testament.  These stories told more than just faith, however.  They connected faith to life.  These men and women turned to God in times of need.  The author of Hebrews tells us to do the same.  But what does this look like?  How does fixing your eyes on Jesus affect your daily life?

God promised Abraham that through his son Isaac he would father many nations.  Abraham believed that promise.  How then could God ask Abraham to sacrifice his son, the very son of the promise?  Whatever Abraham might have wrestled with in his mind, he decided to obey God.  He decided to offer up his son Isaac as a sacrifice.  Abraham and Isaac gathered the things needed for the sacrifice and set out for the place where it would take place.  Isaac noticed that they didn’t have a lamb to sacrifice.  He asked his father where the lamb was, and Abraham replied, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”

And Moses, Moses lived in all the glory ofEgypt.  Pharaoh’s daughter took him in as a baby and raised him as her own son.  He had everything you could desire.  All the pleasures of the world were at his fingertips.  But, he saw how God’s people, his people, suffered in their bondage as slaves.  And he realized that his place was at their side.

The Israelites suffered for generations as slaves ofEgypt.  God used Moses to lead His people out ofEgypt, out of slavery.  Pharaoh’s army pursued the Israelites and trapped them against theRed Sea.  God parted that sea for His people to cross on dry land.  With walls of water barreling down on each side, would the Israelites have the courage to cross?

Now, how did each of these examples of faith turn out?  Abraham trusted God; he endured the trial and God provided a ram in Isaac’s place.  Abraham became a father of many nations.  Moses endured the hardships that came from rejecting Pharaoh.  He trusted in God alone and God used him to deliverIsraelfrom their bondage.  The Israelites, too, trusted God and crossed through the sea.  They endured their days of slavery to enter the promised land.

But, we don’t need examples of suffering. We know perfectly well what suffering is all about, a few of us are Rams’ fans after all.  You know life is tough.  You know because you face it everyday.  Those daily challenges probably aren’t as major and life-changing as the Hebrews’ examples, but they are still temptations.  How do we endure the race of life?

For example, what about when your boss dumps a stack of paperwork on your desk and expects you to have it ready within the hour?  Or when you come home from a hard day only to find that dinner isn’t ready, the kids are fighting, and the garbage truck ran right over your flowerbed again?  Anger, rather than faith, can quickly erupt.

Sin clings to us.  Temptations blindside us.  You don’t see it coming and then suddenly there it is.  The attractive person sitting nearby or the perfect opportunity to say something bad about someone to make yourself look good.  Sin cripples faith.

Not long ago I took my truck in to the local Dodge dealer to have a valve replaced.  When I went to pick it up the cashier asked for my name.  I told her, but she must have misunderstood.  She handed me the bill and the keys to an 07 Ram.  That truck was fully loaded and it was my favorite color: blue.  There was a temptation to just be quiet and take those keys.  Oh, and the warranty covered Mr. Anderson’s repair bill.  Warranties didn’t cover my bill.

Temptation is a part of life.  We can’t hide from it or hope to run away from it.  How then does God expect us to endure the pressures of life?

Hebrews gave us examples of men and women who faced this challenge before us.  And, it tells us how they endured.  They laid aside their sin, their fear, and their doubts.  And they turned to God.  We do the same. We now set aside those sins that cling to us and we endure the many pressures and the daily grind of life by turning to God.

In each of those Old Testament stories, endurance came from faith, faith in the promise.  For each of them, it was a promise of deliverance, of rest, of life.  How much more do we have in Christ?  Christ is the fulfiller of the promises they looked forward to.  By looking to Jesus, they had the strength to make it through anything Satan and the world could throw at them.  So do we.  We endure by faith in Jesus.

For the last decade we have heard the phrase WWJD, “What Would Jesus Do?”  We’ve seen it on wristbands and heard it as a catchy slogan.  Many people criticized it as being too Law-focused.  But the idea behind it is simple.  When temptation comes up, what do you do?  Where do you turn?  The WWJD approach says to look to Christ.  Jesus was perfect in every way.  If we look to Him and think of what He would have done, we may likely figure out how we should act.  And while that may be a good thing, it doesn’t quite cover everything.

My dad had his own phrase.  Whenever someone would mention WWJD, he would ask WHJD, “What Has Jesus Done”?  That’s a good Lutheran response isn’t it?  We turn to the cross.  Jesus experienced similar temptations to what our Old Testament brethren faced.  He went through many of the temptations that we have today.

Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness for forty days.  He wanted Jesus to prove that He was God.  “Command that these stones become bread.”  “Throw Yourself down.”  Satan didn’t need proof.  He wanted to trap Jesus and cause Him to sin.  Satan even went as far as to offer Him the whole world.

He could have had it all, become the king with all authority in this age.  Instead, He gave it all up for you.  He endured every single temptation which He faced.  He suffered a miserable death, sacrificing Himself to give you life.  He endured the shame of the cross in your place.  Jesus finished the race.

But He didn’t stop after He crossed the finish line.  He kept going and conquered death and the grave as well.  He rose from the dead and ascended to the Father’s right hand.  He has all authority on both Heaven and Earth.

He is the author and perfector of our faith.  He has set us free from sin and death, and will deliver us through all suffering and persecution into everlasting life.  That life which we now look forward to with Him in paradise is magnificent.

But what about now?  What about this life?

Here we fix our eyes on Christ as many before us have done.  By focusing on His death and resurrection, we find strength to endure the race.  Life will wear you down, but when it does, when sin tries to cling to you, you cling to Christ.  Through Him we endure the burdens of this present age.  In Christ we will find rest.

The recent Ice Age movies give us a character who is the image of endurance.  Even if you haven’t seen any of the movies, Scrat the Squirrel is all they used for advertising.  A trailer for the movie would just follow Scrat as he tried to get his acorn.  That must have been the last acorn, for he was willing to suffer anything to get it.  Battling piranhas, fighting through a blizzard, falling off a cliff, getting squeezed between icebergs.  Scrat endures.

In the preview for the final movie, Scrat is searching for the acorn only to have it snatched up by a female squirrel.  Scrat then fights through his desire for the acorn and his attraction to the girl.  He doesn’t want to let the acorn go, and in their tussle, he throws her over the cliff.  Guilt grips and he decides to be a hero.  He plunges over the edge and uses the acorn to speed up his fall.  He catches up to her, and the two cling to the acorn together.

For a romantic moment, they stare into each other’s eyes.  But with an evil smirk, she pulls the acorn away from Scrat and we all learn that she’s a flying squirrel.  She spreads her “wings” and glides away.  Scrat plummets to earth, alone.  Scrat doesn’t lose hope, however.  He bounces right back in pursuit of that girl and his acorn.

We all have things in common with that little squirrel.  Life is full of bumps and bruises, massive cliffs and gut-wrenching temptations.  He never lost sight of that acorn.  He never lost sight of the goal. We live life today, we endure life today, through faith in Jesus and the promise of life to come.  He is the goal that we must never lose sight of.

When we face the hurdles that life puts in our way, we live out our faith in Jesus.  Instead of grumbling at the boss or gossiping behind her back, faith gets the work done.  Rather than bursting out in anger when we come home, faith goes to work.  We help make dinner, negotiate between the kids, and eventually replant the flowers.  By faith, we turn away from the chance to lust at that attractive person and turn down the chance to speak poorly of our neighbor.  We endure by faith in Jesus.

Here is where WWJD may come in handy in your enduring the race.  It may help you to wear the wristband, or even just to remember the phrase.  It points you to Christ when you may have forgotten otherwise.  And whenever something points you to Christ, it ultimately points you to the cross and the empty tomb.  It points you to life.  So, the next time you think of WWJD, don’t forget WHJD.

 

Steve Andrews

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