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Can I Have a Witness?

Hebrews 12:1-3


“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, [2] 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. [3] For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”  (NASB) 

Mickey Spillane says, “The most important part of a story is the ending. No one reads a book to get to the middle.”

The ending is the context for everything that precedes it. Without a strong ending, the value of our lives is cheapened and the potential of our influence is diminished. Our faithfulness must be for a lifetime. We must finish well.

In 2 Timothy 4:6-8, Paul wrote, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. [7] I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; [8] in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (NASB)

Paul finished well, but according to Professor Howard Hendricks of Dallas Theological Seminary, there are 100 or so leaders in the Bible, two-thirds of whom did not finish well.  (Go the Distance)

Leaders like King David.  When King David fell, he brought shame to his entire house and his kingdom. His son Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, squandered Israel's future on foreign wives who introduced their gods to the culture. If Dr. Hendricks is right, if 2/3rds of Biblical leaders did not finish well, then Paul's statement "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;" takes on greater significance.  He was one of the elite of the faith. 

Why was Paul able to finish well?  For one thing, he didn't take the finish line for granted.  Paul knew his frailties, he said, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief." (1 Tim. 1:15 KJV) Paul knew he was a sinner and he waged a constant battle against the flesh. In Romans 7:15-19 he wrote, "For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. [16] If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. [17] Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. [18] For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. [19] For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do." (KJV)

  Can't we all relate to Paul's words here?  Don't we all struggle with the power of sin in our lives? To finish the race, we have to lay aside habitual sin. In Hebrews 12:1 the writer of Hebrews said, “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," Look at the phrase "the sin which doth so easily entangles us." That phrase is referring to habitual sin.  We cannot finish the race unless we lay aside every weight, including habitual sin.

 Do you have a signature sin—a sin that defines you?  It might be a critical spirit, a lustful eye or uncontrolled anger.  The writer of Hebrews tells us we must lay aside that weight if we plan on finishing the race.  You can run a sprint with weights on, but you can’t run a marathon carrying excessive weight.    If you don’t deal with that sinfulness, it will weigh you down and keep you from finishing well.  You may be able to fake it for a short time period, but you cannot fake an entire life.  1 John 1:9 says, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.” (NLT)   Please confess your sin to the Lord today, and lay it aside so you can run your race. 

 In his book Confronting Powerless Christianity, Charles Kraft writes about his son Rick, who at the time had run in eighteen full marathons.  Rick says, “I never hope to win a marathon. I just want to finish.”

 On one occasion, Rick’s Mom & Dad came to the race to watch him compete and encourage him as he ran.  They were his support system, cheering him on and providing him with water when he needed it.  He did manage to cross the finish line, but his time was not what he’d hoped for, his legs were stiff and it took him a few days to recuperate, but he’d met his goal, he’d finished.

The hardest part of the race, according to Rick, is the middle where few fans cheer and the runner is acutely aware of how tired his body is.  For Rick, he knows that his wife will be waiting for him at the finish line and there are always fans cheering at the beginning, but the middle is lonely and hard.  Spillane may be right, no one reads a book to get to the middle, but to get to the end, everyone must go through the middle.

 Our eyes are fixed on Jesus at the finish line, just as the author of Hebrews says, but where do we get the encouragement for the middle of the race?  The writer of Hebrews says, “We have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us.”  Actually, what it says is, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us. . .”  This verse is referring back to Chapter eleven and the people mentioned in the roll call of the faithful.

 Listen carefully, and you’ll hear them cheering you on.  Today, when you feel like giving up because you don’t have all the facts, look up, because Abraham, one of the great cloud of witnesses is cheering you on.  He’s saying you can do it!  You don’t have to know all of the plans of the Lord to follow Him, you just have to know that He is Lord of the plans.  When you say, I can’t finish because I need to see it to believe it, Listen as Abraham tells you, no, just believe it and you’ll see it.

 When you don’t think you can go on because you are afraid of failure or to take a risk, listen to Moses cheer you on.  He’ll tell you about his mother who wove a basket and risked the life of her son and placed him in the river so Pharaoh’s daughter could take him to safety.  He’ll tell you how he risked everything, even his own life to return to Egypt to demand that Pharaoh let God’s people go, and he’ll tell you to trust in God too.  He’ll tell you that God will not leave you or forsake you.  Moses will tell you how he stood before the Red Sea with the armies of Pharaoh in hot pursuit and held his staff over the waters.  He’ll cheer you on and tell you to risk—to trust in God, and that God will part the sea in front of you too!

 When you think you are giving up too much to follow God and that it isn’t worth the sacrifice.  Other men and women of faith will rise from the great cloud of witnesses and tell you that they died for their faith, and it was worth it.  They’ll tell you how God shut the mouths of the lions in some cases, others will tell you that they lost everything to follow Him and gave everything, even their own lives, but that it was worth it.

 Listen my friends, listen, and open your spiritual ears.  You think you are alone, you’re not.  There is a great crowd of witnesses surrounding us, and they are telling you that you can make it.

 Keep your eyes on the finish line, and listen for encouragement as you run the race.   But before you finish, or even run, you first have to start.  Are you in the race?
If not, come join us.  We’re running.  We’re running where great men and women have run before us.  We’re running for a lofty goal.  Come run with us.  We want to run with you.

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