March 23

Yesterday we held our first ever virtual service. I already feel the disconnect of not meeting with everyone, greeting them as they come in and seeing them off at the end of service. The lack of fellowship and communion with our brothers and sisters in Christ is going to put a hole in our lives for a little while, but we look past the now to the future when we can meet again. Until then, we’ll just continue interacting via e-mail, our website, and other technological options.

In the Book of Hebrews, the author is preaching a sermon to people who had left Judaism for Christianity, but were now being drawn back to their cultural/religious Jewish roots. He’s arguing that Jesus is better than Moses, the prophets, angels, etc. He’s pleading with his readers to follow the example of those who have gone before them. And in chapter 11 he presents the Hall of Faith; a list of people who endured in their walk with God even in trying and difficult times. In chapter 12, verses 1-2 he states:

  • Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

One rule of interpretation deals with connecting words which link thoughts together. This is what brings the context together. When you see a “therefore”, you need to ask, “what is it there for?” It’s there to connect back to a previous section. In this case, Hebrews 12:1-2 connects back to chapter 11. The cloud of witnesses is not a group of those who preceded us in death, sitting in Heaven, watching our lives. This cloud is the testimony of those in chapter 11 whose lives stand as an example to us of perseverance in the faith.

Next, what is stopping you from following Jesus? Every encumbrance and the sin which entangles you do not necessarily relate to just any sin or challenge, but to those which would dissuade you from continuing in your walk of faith. It is those things which would draw you back to your pagan, faithless, atheistic or Christ-less life. It is what leads to apostasy.

We are next brought into the Greek world of athletics. Remember, a running race 2,000 years ago was not as simple as wearing lightweight clothing, featherweight running shoes, and doing the Boston Marathon with Gatorade and purified water on the route. It was a shear battle for survival, and you often ran naked so you had nothing that could encumber you. You were sometimes attacked during the race and had to fight off any resistance. You persevered even in the toughest of times. If you didn’t, you ended up dead.

The author then instructs us to fix our eyes on Jesus. He’s our finish line. He’s our goal. When I used to run, a 10-mile run with no end in sight felt like eternity and people were more likely to quit. Yet, run that same distance with a finish line in sight and you’d set your sights on getting to the end. You’d fight and push it out even when your shoulders cramped, and you felt like vomiting. You’d fight even as your legs were jelly and your head was light and your tongue was dry. You’d fight to get to the end because you had the end in sight.

But, why are we instructed to keep our eyes on Jesus? Because He created our salvation and will fulfil it. He proved Himself by fighting, running the race, enduring the torture of the cross, all for the joy of saving us and redeeming us. And, He is now seated in the place of prominence and power on the right side of the Father. He is the worthy Victor!

John the Baptist endured to the end. He kept his eyes on Jesus and he kept pointing people to Him. Standing against the sin of Herod he was ultimately imprisoned and beheaded. He was the greatest man to ever live, according to Jesus. He is our example.

Christian ministry in America is often commercialized, self-promoting, and personality-driven. There are a few humble men who hold a televised platform and keep pointing to Jesus. There are scores of others who keep pointing to themselves. It’s a slippery slope. This is why I mentioned yesterday that we are here as a church to promote Jesus. We are not seeking the fame of Waikoloa Baptist, but the fame of our Lord and Savior. Whether we’re 100 people or 1,000. Whether we have a national platform or just a local one. We have one goal and that is to point people to Jesus.

In 2007, when Alicia and I moved to Virginia, we started attending Thomas Road Baptist Church. Jerry Falwell Sr. died in May and Jonathan Falwell took over as the new pastor. Jonathan had a track record of mundane sermons up to that point, and was not a notable preacher. Yet, with his father’s death, he was placed in a new position of pastoring a megachurch, and he knew he wasn’t prepared for that. He had many wise men reach out to him from other churches. He also discovered a concept from Spurgeon that he began broadcasting everywhere: “Not I But Christ”. He wanted Thomas Road Baptist to focus on Jesus, not on the late Dr. Falwell. He wanted the church to promote Jesus and not its own glory. And, he wanted to exalt Jesus rather than himself. Ultimately, Jonathan’s preaching blossomed overnight, and the message of “Not I But Christ” went everywhere from bumper stickers to radio commercials.

  1. Self-evaluation time:
    1. When people see you, do they see the Christ that is in you, or do they not even see Jesus? ___________________________________________________
    2. When pressures and trials come, do you look to Jesus, or do you begin to doubt Him? ___________________________________________________
    3. Even the unsaved world recognizes when people have an I disease (“I want”, “I prefer”, “I like”, “I”, “I”, “I”). Muhammad Ali, the famous champion boxer, self-promoted himself everywhere with “I am the greatest”. We all have this problem, but to what degree we keep it in check and ensure it doesn’t gain predominance in our lives is the difference between exalting Christ and exalting ourselves. Where do you think you mostly reside, promoting Christ most often, or promoting yourself? ___________________________________________________
  2. We are in a constant battle with our flesh which desires to be seen, be applauded, be recognized, be affirmed. Our culture tells us we deserve these things. We are even told it’s healthy for us to be lifted up and to receive attention. But, the Christian life is one of self-diminishing and Christ exaltation. What are some of the many ways you can exalt Jesus in your life? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  3. Now, here’s a hard one, but try this out. Try going one day without looking at the news to read or watch anything dealing with Coronavirus. Each and every time you get the urge to see what’s going on, go to the Bible and to prayer instead, and spend time with Jesus. Evaluate yourself at the end of the day and note your emotional state and faith level when you finished your day: ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Leaning on the Everlasting ArmsHymn by E.A. Hoffman

1 What a fellowship, what a joy divine,

leaning on the everlasting arms;

what a blessedness, what a peace is mine,

leaning on the everlasting arms.

Refrain:

Leaning, leaning,

(Leaning on Jesus, leaning on Jesus)

safe and secure from all alarms;

leaning, leaning,

(Leaning on Jesus, leaning on Jesus)

leaning on the everlasting arms.

 

2 O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,

leaning on the everlasting arms;

O how bright the path grows from day to day,

leaning on the everlasting arms.

[Refrain]

 

3 What have I to dread, what have I to fear,

leaning on the everlasting arms?

I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,

leaning on the everlasting arms.

[Refrain]