They call it: ‘The Hill.’ A sandy trail winding two-and-a-half miles uphill. Yes, a continually gradual incline of two-and-a-half miles. Yet, ‘The Hill’ looks pretty unspectacular. It does not have deadly drop-offs, cliffs and pits, or some lake of fire to leap over; it’s just a plain hill— but one man had trouble reaching the top. ‘The Hill’ was just was too steep; he was too tired. So, he ran ‘The Hill’ again the next day… and the next day …and the day after that. He ran ‘The Hill’ every single day for over twenty years. The more he ran, the faster he got. (In fact, he sprinted, not jogged, sprinted that two-and-a-half mile incline in just under 16-minutes!) He became stronger. He could endure more. He gained more resolve to push through struggle. By the end of his 20-year football career, legendary San Francisco 49er, Jerry Rice, held the all-time records for most touchdowns, most receiving yards, and most receptions. In fact, he set the bar so high that even the best players reaching the end of their lengthy careers would need to play an additional 5-7 seasons just to threaten those records! Jerry Rice ran ‘The Hill’ because, in his own words, ‘he did not want to get into a mode of quitting.’ His single-minded goal was to finish so that “In that fourth quarter, even if I was tired, I was able to fight through it to make that winning catch for that touchdown.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3zfNlmEHr0)
Can you persevere like that? You may feel exhausted trusting promises God has made. You may want to quit believing that God blesses you because you just do not see the blessing. You may feel overwhelmed by the burdens you carry. Where do you find the strength, the motivation, the certainty that trust in God is valuable? How do you persevere? Fix Your Eyes on Jesus for aim at life’s truest goal and for strength to persevere under all discipline.
That’s how athletes train. A clear objective hangs before their eyes— an accomplishment, a championship, or glory. If they lose sight of that objective, they will never claim the prize. So the entire body fights to reach the goal.
Christians who lived millennia before Jesus locked eyes onto the guarantee that Jesus would come. That Jesus would pay sin’s penalty. That Jesus would rescue them into heaven. That is life’s ultimate goal; heaven is life’s finish line. Those ancient Christians yearned to reach that goal— and God’s guarantee was their focus.
Remaining focused is challenging. Just last week, you watched Abraham wait for a son that never seems to come. At a moment like that, you reach a serious crossroads. Either (1) You trust that God will give as promised or (2) You doubt that God will give as promised. Either (1) You take God at his Word or (2) You push his Word out of your heart.
That tension is called ‘the cross.’ The cross is everything that you suffer because you are connected to Christ. On the one hand you love God, you cling to his Word, you rely on his promises— you are connected to him! On the other hand so much in this life creates doubt, fear, and resentment— and that tension pulls on you, tugging and trying to divide your allegiance from your God. I mean, sudden loss rips into your life. Instantly the questions appear: ‘God, why? She was so young.’ ‘God, I loved him. Why a cancer-caused death?’ ‘God, why the memory loss?’ ‘God, the pain makes it hard to love you.’ Those losses tug at us, and you hit that crossroads: (1) Trust God even when you do not see love or (2) Quit because you do not see love. Or, the future is never clear. You know God gives all you need for life, but at this moment, you rely more on your clever financial footwork to navigate through trade wars and recession-leaning markets. You know God loves you, but at this moment, school’s about to start and you have career choices to make and, well, you know God will not boom some answer from heaven: ‘Choose accounting!’ or ‘Take the desk job!’ Decisions tug at us. We again hit that crossroads: (1) Rely on God’s promises or (2) Toss the promises aside and rely on yourself! Or, you ponder the ministry of your church. You know God wants you around his Word; that is the main reason you are here. At the same, you cannot forget those who moved downstate or moved into heaven. You hit that crossroads: (1) Trust that God will keep creating faith and strengthening faith or (2) Despair that more will leave, no one will come, your doors will shut, and you will not have the comfort of worshipping here.
It is hard to take God at his Word. So much of what is seen tries to convince you that God is nowhere present— and it is so easy to quit running. Because you’re tired. You’re exhausted. You’re scared. You encounter that crossroads: (1) Stop trusting God, leave his promises, shut his Word out of your heart and life. Then what happens? You would gain hell. What’s the other road? (2) Fix Your Eyes on Jesus— even in trouble.
Listen again to our reading: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses [those ancient Christian examples— Hebrews 11:1-40], let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles… Have you ever watched Olympic runners? They wear light clothing. Layers of sweatshirts will weigh them down and long jeans constrict movement. So, sprinters wear light clothing. Here, God says, ‘Take all those struggles you face, all those impulses to turn from the Word, all those temptations to lash out at me and throw them off.’ Those temptations hinder us! Cursing God, blaming God, doubting God will never let us reach the goal of heaven. Throw off that despair and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. How? You’re so tired! How do you persevere? Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… Gain motivation to rely on God because Jesus is both Motivator and motivation!
Fix Your Eyes on Jesus… who for the joy set before him… because of his goal to bring you (and me) into heaven… [he] endured the cross, [he was not afraid of] its shame. Think of who Jesus is. The eternal God who calms wind and wave with a word. The One who forces demons into hell with a command. The One who raises the dead. Jesus is all-powerful God— and not just that, but he is faultless. No one can accuse Jesus of name-calling. No one ever witnessed him brushing off the needy. No one watches him deliberately doing wrong. No one saw it because it never happened. Still, Jesus is treated as a criminal. The lowest-of-the-low criminals sentenced to death. How is that fair? On the cross, Jesus hangs naked. Bleeding. Groaning. Helpless. Meanwhile, people taunt him. They laugh. They mock. He does not deserve this! Even worse, God holds him accountable for our anger at God’s justice! Still, it is Jesus who dies. Why? Jesus dies on a cross in order to remove the penalty for sin. That is the only way you (and I) would enter heaven.
Because of you (and I) will. Jesus rose from the dead— and even higher than that: [he] sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Jesus will never ever suffer again. He reigns over every power, every authority, every person forever and ever.
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Have you ever done that— considered the opposition Jesus endures? Jesus could have said, ‘No cross’— but then, how would payment be made? He could have snapped fingers and thundered into heaven, but you (and I) would still be stuck in sin. He could have raged against every smug, worldly leader, but then he would have sinned and become imperfect like us. Jesus willingly suffers death— death in our place!— so that you (and I) will not suffer in hell, so that you (and I) will join him in heaven.
Do you see life’s truest goal? Do you see the value of your faith? You walk behind Jesus, the Victor who already claimed victory! A victory for you. When struggling, Fix Your Eyes on Jesus and see him live for life’s truest goal. Keep Fixing Your Eyes on Jesus for strength to persevere under all discipline.
Listen again to verses 5-6: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Parents, why do you discipline your child? You put an end to wrong behavior. That allows room for good behavior to flourish. Really, discipline builds character.
God knows that you (and I) need pruning. If that sounds repulsive, then it only proves that you need pruning. Much of what we consider ‘suffering’ is really an attachment to something that can drag us from God. Right? You suffer insults because of what you believe, and you may really just want to be popular. You dread funerals because you love earth more than heaven— at least, for the moment. I mean, what we call ‘suffering’ can really mask love for worldly things.
So, God, in love, uses his Word to divide love for the world away from our love for God. Right now, we enjoy the ability to walk and eat and move. If illness or age takes that ability away, it allows the opportunity to look up and realize God controls our life. God manages our days. We thank God for the life we have now and thank him for the perfect life he has prepared! When tensions rise in marriage, we may want the other person to conform to our expectations. Yet, when tensions rise, it allows the opportunity to see where God tells us to change. We love family; we cherish friends. Yet, when they leave this life we remember that heaven is our real home, not earth. We may want a fuller-church, more children, even more activities. Yet, God lets us look around and remember that the true reason for gathering here is not for community praise, but to feed our souls. Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. That is the reason for discipline: to share in God’s holiness. God removes all that can drag us away from him so that we never will leave him. The suffering, the heartache, the pain we endure now allows the opportunity to refocus on life’s truest goal, to return to God’s Word, and to continue clinging to that Word. Fix Your Eyes on Jesus for strength to persevere under all discipline.
So much pulls and tugs on our hearts. You may feel like you’re running up ‘The Hill.’ You may feel exhausted trusting promises God has made. You may want to quit believing that God blesses you because you just do not see the blessing. You may feel overwhelmed by the burdens you carry. You just want to quit trusting God. Quit loving him so much.
Yet, quit and you lose life. Persevere and you gain life. Fix Your Eyes on Jesus. See the purpose of his death. See the results of his resurrection. Know that because he died, you will live. Know that because he sits in heaven, you too will sit in heaven. Keep your eyes locked on the one thing life is all about: knowing God now in order to know him for all eternity. Fix Your Eyes on Jesus for aim at life’s truest goal and for strength to persevere under all discipline.