Sunday, May 26, 2019

A Great Cloud of Witnesses: Fix your Eyes on Jesus

Audio Message:

Two years ago as I was preparing to leave my internship for training college I got on my knees and I asked the Lord, “What is the scripture you’ll give me for this time in my life.” My Bible seemed to flip perfectly to Hebrews, the twelfth chapter. Verses 1 through 3.

I sent an email to Captain Xav about two months ago and asked him, what is the topic for the upcoming sermon? And he emailed me back and said, “Hebrews 12 verses 1 through 3.” God is good. And this is just one of many winks from God. He is sovereign.

The scripture today calls us to perseverance. And it speaks of a race that has already been marked out for us. God already knows everything we’ll do in our lives. It’s all set before us.

Why do the scriptures so often call us to perseverance? Because being a Christian isn’t easy. It’s not easy at all. We have to live by all sorts of difficult standards. Like loving our enemies, and forgiving people who do unspeakable evil to us. We have to allow ourselves to be shamed and ridiculed, for the sake of the gospel. Not only that but we have to endure suffering, which God prescribes to us to make us holy. We’re cleansed by the RX of suffering, to be refined by God into Christ-likeness. That’s tough.

We’ve all been through an awful lot in our lives. I don’t care who you are. We’ve been through the ringer. This is a fallen, broken planet, full of evil. Yet there is also God at work in it.

Often times in this difficult life we wonder, “Can I really go on another moment?” Sometimes when I wake up in the morning, I just think to myself, “I can’t do this.” We all have our cross of suffering to bear, whether it be lost loved one, depression, anxiety, or chronic pain, migraines, addictions, and so on. Yet despite all that the show must go on.

Life is messy. Ministry is messy. We often think of that in the context of other people. It’s messy for us. It’s messy inside of us. But despite the messiness, we persevere through the messiness, and through suffering through these struggles, we bring great glory and honor to God.

Is our situation unique? Nope. Just like the great cloud of witnesses who goes before us, we glorify God through difficulty. In Hebrews 11:36-39 we hear about all the greats from the past who did great glory to God, Gideon, Abraham, David, and so on.

It says: “There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. These were all commended for their faith… “
- Hebrews 11:36-39

It says through faith they conquered. Their utter weakness, their vulnerability, was turned to mighty strength.

How did they do this? Through their unshakable faith in God. They knew where to look. As our scripture says today: “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” 

Look at Jesus. Fix our eyes on Jesus: But what does that really mean? It means an unshakable trust in Jesus. A faith that rests in adversity. A faith that can’t be shaken by the visible suffering and sorrow all around us and within us.

Those prior generations faced death for proclaiming Christ. Yet today we’re pretty spoiled in the west. We have all our needs met. However, we’re bombarded by temptation like no other generation has been. We’re torn between political and social ideologies; we’re hit with thousands of advertisements per day. We’re constantly told: You’re not good enough unless you buy… whatever.

Which is why we must be doubly sure to not be entangled by sin. We’re surrounded by it. It entangles so easily.

Hebrews 12:4-6 says: 4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

God as our heavenly Father has us endure hardship. Indeed, I realized as time passed that the scripture God gave me was one of difficulty and challenge. But if each of us are undergoing discipline/suffering/difficulties, then, this is a beautiful evidence that God is treating us as sons and daughters. So be it. If this is what it takes to be a Christian, I’ll accept all of it. I hope you will too.

In all this we have to look at Jesus, despite suffering in our battles against sin. And I think that starts by looking back. We can look back and see God’s guideposts, pivotal moments where God winks at us, transforms us, gives us a blessing, or even when we suffer.

So I want to ask you: What are God’s sign posts in your life?

I’ll share one illustration: In 2010, I was a deeply troubled young man, in dark depression and addiction. One day I set my mind on ending my own life. I walked to the highway, and I walked out onto the highway, 29 in Wausau, intent on killing myself. 

A man in a vehicle came, we locked eyes. He almost hit me. 2 years later I was in Escanaba. Art Davey came up to me and said, I used to drive through Wausau, one day I was driving and almost hit a young man standing in the road. That was me.

Art came to church with his wife grace, but I don’t think he really believed in Jesus. We talked and he told me he didn’t trust the Bible, because we don’t have the original manuscripts. And I shared with him about the reliability of the new testament, and the attestation of the dead sea scrolls, and the 6000+ manuscripts that match each other. And Art came to believe. He saved me, by not hitting me on the road. I came to Escanaba and preached the gospel to him. Amazing how God works.

You may not realize what is happening in your life right now, but God is tying the strands of your life together.

You may stand in the road and God will protect you, you may be in pain and God is consoling you, you may be wondering just what God is doing in your life, but years from now you may just look back and see the strands that God was tying together, piece by piece, when in the moment you couldn’t see how it all fit together, in the future, you’ll realize God knew exactly what He was doing.

Can you trust Him? Can you really trust Him? Where we look into the future and only see a void of nothingness, we can’t see a single day ahead… God sees every single detail, like a painting, before his eternal eyes, every brush stroke, every color, every texture, God knows it all, and His plan proceeds through times we haven’t yet lived. Can you really, really trust God in the unknown? Decide now. Tell God, “I trust you. I really trust you for what I can’t see.”

You may be asking, “God how long do I have to wait? God how long do I have to be in constant physical pain? God how long do I have to single and alone? God how long until I’m free of this sin in my life?”

Trust the Weaver.

In conclusion today, we see that the scripture of Hebrews 12:1-3 comes to us in four parts.

It begins with a recollection of God’s guideposts: What are my guideposts from God? What were the pivotal moments where I didn’t know what was happening, but God was weaving the strands together? We look back to our past, to see how God has been faithful in the unknown.

Next we recognize the great cloud of witnesses that has gone before us, from Abraham to the apostle Paul. And more personally, people who have mentored us in the salvation army, people who have been an example to us, and friends who have fought through struggles.

Then we realize that though we do suffer, we must turn our full eyes to Jesus Christ and focus intently on him. Through focusing on Jesus we receive the spiritual fuel necessary to fight our battles.

Finally, we recognize that our part is to both trust, and be obedient. And in regard to obedience, we fight off the sins that so easily entangle, and live in holiness. 

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