Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | October 25, 2010

Sermon on Hebrews 12:1-3

Downloadable version

Faith Says, “You Can Do It,” because Faith fixes your eyes on Christ

Lessons:  Isaiah 53:1-12, Hebrews 11, John 6:26-40

Hymns (from Christian Worship): 108, 448, 121, 415

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

These opening verses of Hebrews 12, which really belong with chapter 11, bring us to the grand conclusion of our consideration of faith.  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 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. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Everything that came before led to this.  All these heroes of faith who lived their lives, who died their deaths, and now enjoy the comforts of heaven, serve a new purpose in your life.  They surround you.  Not like a force field, warding off all bad things, not as a group of interceders praying to God on your behalf, getting you out of purgatory, but as witnesses.  These people, Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham; Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Joshua; Gideon, Samson, and Samuel; Daniel and those young men in the fiery furnace; they stand around you as witnesses, telling you things.  And what they’re telling you is simple:  “You can do it!”  These witnesses are cheering you on, encouraging you in your race, reminding you that you can throw off all the sins and impediments that make this life so hard, this race so tough, the run to the end such a fight.  Because these sins, these impediments, these struggles, are not original to you.  And they are not invincible.  Because of Christ.  That’s who and what allowed the heroes of faith to run, and it’s who and what allows you to win.  Faith says, “You can do it!” because faith fixes its eyes on Christ.

That was the refrain of Hebrews 11, even if it wasn’t always spoken explicitly.  Abel went to his grave because he fixed his eyes on Christ.  Noah built the ark because he fixed his eyes on Christ.  Abram offered His son, because he fixed his eyes on Christ.  Moses gave up the wealth of Egypt, because he fixed his eyes on Christ.  Joshua led Israel in a foolish march around Jericho, because he fixed his eyes on Christ.  Daniel prayed and the three young men refused to bow because they fixed their eyes on Christ.

And what did they see? 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…. who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. They saw their Alpha and Omega.  They saw Jesus who is the beginning of faith.  He is where faith starts.  And the end of faith, where faith reaches its goal.  He set it in motion, He brings it to completion.  He ties the bow.

They saw the One Who looked past shame, Who scorned shame, Who despised shame, Who said, “Bring it on,” to sin and shame, because He saw in His own shame on the cross joy – His joy and ours.  His, because He saw resurrection and life to follow; ours, because it was also our resurrection and life.  His, because it means reunion with His creation after the separation of sin; ours, because it means forgiveness, life, and salvation, our return to Eden.  His, because it means He gets to eat and drink again in the kingdom of Heaven; ours, because it means that we get to sit at the table with Him.

They saw His incredible endurance.  Not just in that final week, but His entire life, those 33 years, when nobody listened, when they scorned Him, despised Him, mocked Him, rebuked Him, and then arrested, tortured and killed Him.  He endured.  He stood to the very last.  He was the soldier who volunteered to lead His unit in a valiant rear guard action, so that all others could escape first.  They saw Him who stood, so that we can stand, so that we would not grow weary, so that we would not get sick and quit.

No wonder these heroes ran their race.  They saw all this, not because they actually saw it with their eyes, but by faith.  And now, in heaven, they see it more clearly.  And spend their time shouting to you.  They say, “You can do it!  Fix your eyes on Jesus!”  And it’s a no-brainer.  Because those who don’t, die.  Like the Israelites in the desert.  They grumbled and complained about God and Moses.  “You brought us to the desert to die!  This food stinks!”  And snakes came.  And bit.  And people died.  Until God intervened and had Moses set up that bronze serpent and told them, “Look at it and live!”  And when they did, they lived.  Because of God’s promise.

Or, you have Peter, bold and brave Peter.  One stormy night the disciples were sailing, when they saw Jesus walking on water towards them.  Peter cries out, “If it’s you, let me walk on water to you.”  Jesus says, “Come.”  Peter walks on water.  Until, he looks at the wind and the waves and the water.  And he sinks.  And would have died, had not Jesus reached out His hand and caught him.

Without Jesus, you can’t do anything.  You succumb to the poison.  You sink and die.  You grow weary under the weight of the impediments you heap upon yourself in this race, whatever they might be.  You can’t do it looking anywhere else but at Jesus.  And too often that’s where we’re looking – anywhere but at Jesus.  Oh, we shoot Him a passing glance now and again, but we divide our focus.  Which leads to failure.  You cannot have two masters, either you’ll hate the one and love the other, or you’ll be devoted to one and despise the other.  You can’t look at Jesus and something else.  And He won’t allow it.  When the Israelites did, they got snakes.  When Peter did, he sank and was rebuked for having little faith.  When we do, we hear:  “Away from me.  Hell.”

But just as He did for the Israelites and Peter, our Father doesn’t leave us in our sickness and death.  There’s the great cloud of witnesses.  These heroes remind us that we aren’t the first (or the last) to wrestle with sin and death.  And they, like a faithful work-out partner, keep us on the right track, “You can do it!  Just look at Jesus!  Look at Jesus!  Look at Jesus!”  And we see what they saw.  We see a God who hears the cries of repentant sinners and says, “Look at me and live!  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” Just as Jesus stretched out His hands and saved Peter from drowning, so our Lord reaches out and lifts us up out of the waters of Baptism, alive, reborn, strong and ready to run!  And along the way, it’s not just the heroes cheering us on, but Jesus Himself, standing there with food and drink in His hand, ready to refresh us.  In the words shortly after our Gospel lesson, Jesus said:  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink….  This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever. And our Lord gives us something for our faith to feast upon:  His actual body and blood in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  You can do it, because Christ did it first, for you.  You will never be mentioned in the same breath as these heroes in Hebrews 11, but, by faith in Christ, you are doing exactly what they did and will end up exactly where they are – in heaven, with Christ!  Amen!

 

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