The Future

This evening there are a number present who will be leaving Newcastle in the near future. You have come to an end of your period of study at the University of Newcastle or Northumbria or one of the Colleges. And you are facing a new future. Also, there are those present who are staying in the region, but the late summer or early Autumn will bring various changes in your life or work. And for all of us - whether there are special challenges before us or not - we all are facing a new millennium. In one sense that is just a calendar change. But entering a new millennium is making all sorts of people ask questions of what they want for, and from, the future. This evening, therefore, to help us in our thinking of how we should face the future, I want us to look at some well-known verses from Hebrews, Hebrews 12.1-3. What then are these verses about? Answer: running the race - the Christian race. Verse 1:

let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

So by way of introduction - three things: first, the people being written to in this epistle to the Hebrews are being encouraged to 'run'. The Christian life, our author is saying, is like a race and so will require effort and energy. You can't just drift along without thinking. Secondly, this race (verse 1 says) is to be run 'with perseverance'. This is the message that these Hebrew Christians needed to hear and we need to hear today at the end of the 20th century. The future for the Christian is to keep on with the race. This is the great theme of the letter to the Hebrews. The race will be hard - very hard at times; so we need to 'persevere'. Then, thirdly, note verse 1 says that this is 'the race marked out for us'. God has got a plan. He has a plan in general for his people to witness to Christ in a hostile world. But he also has a plan for each of us as individuals. Paul says, Eph 2:10: we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. So is your goal to plan your future to fit in with God's goals for your life? Or are you planning according to your own preferences and to do you own thing and not God's? You say, this is all very well. But if it is difficult, if it is easy to drift along going our way, rather than God's, what are we to do? Well, these verses give you some principles or rules of thumb on 'spiritual running'. And it's these that I want us to think about for the rest of our time this evening. And the first, principle is ... ... BE MOTIVATED. Look at verse 1:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses ... let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

The picture is of St James Park, or Wembley Stadium. And you are down there on the track - on the grass - as a player or competitor, with a crowd, like 'a great cloud', watching you. That's what it seems like when you are at ground level in a huge stadium. My one and only visit to the new St James' Park was a couple of Christmases ago to see Liverpool beat Newcastle. I sat behind the goal just a row up at the Gallowgate end. The crowd was all enveloping, not unlike a cloud. But who are the crowds being referred to here? Answer: the witnesses referred to in the last chapter. Chapter 11 of Hebrews has gone through some of the heroes of the Old Testament - Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Rahab. There wasn't time, we are told, to discuss Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets. And what was important about all these? Answer - verse 33 of Hebrews 11 - they were those ...

... who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, {34} quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. {35} Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. {36} Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. {37} They were stoned ; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated-- {38} the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

You see, there was this dual story of both victories and achievements, of gains and persecution. And until Christ returns that second time, that is still the way it will be. You will experience great answers to prayer and you will find prayers not answered. You will see the Church grow, and you will see the Church attacked. But you are motivated and encouraged as you study these characters. That is one reason why bible study is so important. Do you feel you can never be a great man or woman of faith? Well, remember, these Old Testament characters weren't all that wonderful as people. So they may not have had great faith in God, but they had faith in a great and loving God. Do you sometimes feel you are spiritually beyond the pale for what you have done? Well, these Old Testament characters included people like Jacob who was dishonest and mean; Rahab who was an immoral prostitute; Samson who was a dissolute young man; Jepthah who was hot-headed and ended up killing his daughter; Samuel who couldn't control his sons; and David who committed adultery and murder. Yet God used them all - not because of their faults but because God forgives sin and then uses the sinner for his work and his glory. There is great encouragement from honest Christian biography. One set of biographies I find helpful is J.C.Ryle's Christian Leaders of the 18th Century. I try to read that each summer [it is on the bookstall, if you want a copy]. The experience of believers now dead motivate. So do experiences of believers still alive. That is why if you are leaving Newcastle in the near future you need to make sure you get into a good church, straightaway. What is a good church? One where the bible is faithfully taught, but also - and this is important - where the church is organised so that you can use it as a base for evangelism - a church [that is to say] where you can invite your non-Christian friends; and also a church that has a children's and youth programme for when you have children. You indeed get great encouragement from other Christian people - not necessarily from the high-profile people in the congregation, but from ordinary, faithful believers you get to know. You find them in your Home Group, or another small group you are in. And you find that your problems are not the only problems. Other Christians have more difficult circumstances; and you see how they cope 'by faith'. That is so encouraging. So, be motivated by remembering and being aware of the 'great cloud of witnesses' - those you read about in the bible, first of all; but then God's people throughout history; and God's people in the Church today. Secondly, and essential in running any race is to BE PREPARED. It is common sense. To run well, you need to put down your holdall, take off your heavy clothes and shoes and get into your running gear. But so many Christians seem to run the race of the Christian life loaded up with all sorts baggage and the most unsuitable of clothing - spiritually speaking. But our writer says in verse 1 - the second half:

let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.

What is 'everything that hinders'? This will include things not wrong in themselves - but that can come between you and God. One of the characters in chapter 11 was Moses. In verse 24 we read:

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter.

Here was a 'throwing off' of status. Moses could have been hindered by his desire for position and status in the Egyptian court. There is nothing wrong, in itself, with getting to the top in your profession or anywhere else. But it can be very dangerous. How many people say:

'well, I need to get on in my career; when I get promotion then I can be firm and open about my stand as a Christian. Until then I'll keep my head down'?

But do they take that stand at the top? Sadly, often not! They have lost the art. If you can't be an overt Christian as a junior, you probably won't as a senior. If there is dishonesty going on in your firm, and you tolerate it as a junior, you will most likely tolerate it as senior. If as a junior doctor you don't stand against abortion, lesbian adoption and euthanasia, why should you when you are senior? Of course, when you are a junior you have to be careful and tactful and polite. But if your chief goal in life is to get to the top in your career and have status and position, be careful: that can easily be something 'that hinders'. Then there is money. Take Moses again. In verse 26 of Hebrews 11 we read:

He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.

He chose to identify with God's people rather than make a fortune in Egypt. Now, of course, money itself is neutral. And how we need Christians to be making money - but not so as to hoard it for themselves but to make it available for Christian work. I've been in the United States this past week. And there you have Christian generosity that puts British Christians to shame. Huge sums are made available for Christian work. How we need more money available for Christian work in the North East. It is generally true in the church as in the world, you get what you pay for. So beware of the dangers of money hindering you on the Christian race. That is why as soon as you start earning you need to give realistically to your local church and for mission. Don't be legalistic. But as Jesus endorsed the Pharisees' tithe principle - giving a tenth of your income - in Matthew 23.23, you should at least start thinking about that. If God blesses you with a large income you can give more than a tithe - as Jesus had said in Matthew 5.20:

your righteousness is to surpass that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.

Give joyfully. But start realistic giving as soon as you receive that first pay cheque. If you start as you mean to go on, it will be much easier later, when, or if, you get big money. So Moses did not let 'the treasures of Egypt' hinder him in his race. And then there is marriage - a wrong marriage partner, certainly, can hinder you. The bible makes it clear that you are only to marry 'in the Lord' - that is to say, only marry another believer. If you are joined to an unbeliever, you have a fundamental spiritual conflict of interests. Of course, people who are converted latter in life, find themselves married to non-Christians. And God uses them in their marriages remarkably. But you don't plan for that. And then there is 'the sin that so easily entangles'. That too needs to be thrown off as you run. What is that sin? Well, there are two sins everyone has to be warned about - pride, on the one hand, and unbelief, on the other. As a Christian you can be proud of what you think you are - that you are better, or sounder, or more moral or more spiritual than some other people. That is so dangerous, because even if it is true, it would only have come about by God's grace that you are where you are. And you can be unbelieving as well as proud. Unbelief is one of the greatest of all problems - unbelief about your own sinfulness; then unbelief about God's wisdom - that he knows best for you and the world; and unbelief about God's mercy - that he wants to forgive you for the mess you are in. If you are going to run the race effectively you need to throw off pride and unbelief - and we all need to do that. But then there are specific sins or temptations that will come your way and that are more of a problem for one person than another. These may be due to your temperament or your education or your family background. There is lust - sexual lust; too much alcohol; bad temper; malice; covetousness; general worldliness - that is to say, you are in danger of always drifting with the world's values; and idleness - and many more. How important to 'throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.' That is how you prepare for the Christian race that is the Christian life. Finally, BE FOCUSED. Look at verse 2:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Which Jesus are we talking about, here? A Jesus that is constructed to fit the fashions of today - and whatever is politically correct? Of course, not. It is the Jesus you read about in the bible - the real Jesus. How important, therefore, to read the bible and recognize its authority. Destroy the bible and you destroy access to the real Jesus. But the bible shows us a Jesus who is 'the author and perfecter of our faith'. Christianity is Christ. You fix your eyes on Jesus for salvation. He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, on the Cross - God, the son, dying for you and me in our place, bearing all our guilt. You fix your eyes on Jesus for his teaching, his example and his giving you his Holy Spirit to help you and strengthen you day by day to begin to conquer those entangling sins. And you fix your eyes on Jesus for his appearing, the second time, at that second advent. What was Jesus example? Verse 2:

for the joy set before him [he] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

The Christian life isn't meant to be a vale of tears. You are to live anticipating the joy of heaven. Then the problems and pressures of this life get into perspective. And as you fix your eyes on Jesus everyday, you see his example of 'scorning the world's shame'. The world will try to shame you, abuse you or malign you. But 'scorn' it when it does, like Jesus scorned the shame people were trying to put on him. And remember he is the victor. Whatever happens, remember that Jesus is reigning; he has 'sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.' So verse 3:

Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

'Consider' means 'think', 'use your mind' as you focus on Jesus. Realise what he went through for you, realise that he will strengthen you to cope with whatever pressures come your way. Then 'you will not grow weary and lose heart.' That is the great temptation - to grow weary and lose heart. I must conclude. Where will you be, spiritually speaking, in 10, 15, 20, or 25 years time if Jesus Christ doesn't first return? Perhaps there is someone here this evening and you have never 'fixed your eyes on Jesus' as 'the author and perfecter of your faith.' Why not turn to him now and admit your pride and unbelief - admit that you have failed God and need forgiveness. Christ will give you that as you look to him and pray for it, and he will give you his Holy Spirit. But if you have already done that, and you are running the race, be motivated by learning from God's witnesses in previous generations and from today. Be prepared by throwing off those things that hinder your running and 'the sin that so easily entangles'. And, as you face the future, be focused 'on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.' Then you will not 'grow weary and lose heart.'

Back to top