Hebrews 12:1-3 (12th Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
August 15, 2010
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the from our Epistle lesson recorded in Hebrews 12:
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones. By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. . . . Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
There are many different kinds of pain in life. There is physical pain caused by back injuries, wounds, and diseases. There is the emotional pain of depression and fear. We also find the spiritual pain of doubt and guilt. Pain does different things to different people. Some turn to drugs and alcohol to cover it up. Others ignore it and bury it, thinking it will go away only to find that anything buried alive will resurrect itself. Some people turn to church—not God—to ease their pain. They see the smiling faces in television churches, see pastors who smile and promise nothing but wonderful things for their lives. Is this the real view of Christian life? According to the Word of God, no. In our Epistle for today, we see that where there’s no pain, there’s no gain, and the way through pain to gain is by keeping our eyes on Jesus.
Pain is a reality. What was the most painful moment of your life? For each of us that answer is going to be different. Perhaps it is a divorce, abuse, or neglect. For me, it’s a toss-up between the loss of three children through miscarriage and the severe panic attacks I suffered three years ago. But no matter what pain we name, all of it is sin-related. Sin has marred everything God has created. One of the ways the effects of sin in the world show up in our lives is through pain—spiritual, physical, and emotional. We can deny pain or try to ignore it, but that does not deal with it. Eventually, the root problem has to be dealt with.
How do you deal with the pain that is a part of your life today? Do you turn to the Word of God for answers? Are you one who denies that there is a problem? Maybe you are one simply to ignore the problem. We need to look at some of the greatest people of faith and ask this question: “How did they get through the pain?” The answer may surprise you.
The first example given in the Epistle lesson today is Abraham. He is sometimes called “the father of the faithful.” Yet even the father of the faithful had his share of trials and pain along the way. His most painful moments are found in Genesis 22, where God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. How did Abraham make it through that trial? The answer, “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” Even in the most difficult of circumstances Abraham focused on God rather than on the circumstances.
The second example is Moses. Moses may not come to mind when you think of suffering and pain. But consider for a moment that Moses was a highly cultured person growing up in Pharaoh’s house. His compassion for his people led him out of the palace and into the desert of Midian, where he tended sheep for forty years. Moses suffered because he trusted God more than he loved his position and power. He looked forward to what was ahead of him rather than what was behind him.
All of the people listed in Hebrews 11 suffered pain in this life—some more than you or I can imagine. But they also knew an important truth: without pain, there is no gain. Football players know this. The training camps and pre-season schedule is under way. These players go through a lot—lifting weights, working out, practicing each day, enduring injuries along the way. Why do they do it? Each one has a dream of winning the Super Bowl. The same can be said of our spiritual lives. Apart from pain, there is no gain.
The way we Christians make it through the pains of life is that we see our pains in light of the cross. We can look back to the cross of Christ and see our pain dealt with once and for all. As we continue the race of life we endure through the pain by looking to the cross, by looking to Jesus.
Jesus is presented to us in our text as the One who has blazed the trail of faith and as the One who Himself ran the race of faith to its triumphant finish. The whole life of Jesus was characterized by unbroken and unquestioning faith in His heavenly Father, even in the midst of pain and suffering. This was never more true than when our Lord was in the Garden of Gethsemane. He committed Himself to His Father’s hands for the ordeal of the cross with the words, “not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36) It was sheer faith and trust in God, unsupported by any visible or touchable evidence, that carried Jesus through the mocking, the scourging, the crucifying, and the bitter agony of being forsaken by God and dying as He bore the sins of the world in His body.
To die by crucifixion was to investigate the lowest depths of pain and disgrace. It was a punishment reserved for those who were deemed most unfit to live, a punishment for those who were subhuman. But Jesus disregarded this disgrace and pain as something not worthy to be taken into account when it was a question of obedience to the will of God. We read Jesus’ response to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “’O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)
Jesus brought faith to perfection by His endurance of the cross. The founder and perfecter of our faith has been made perfect through suffering and is now exalted to the right hand of the throne of God as our Risen Savior and Lord. The throne of God, to which Jesus has been exalted, is the place to which He has gone as His people’s forerunner. That is the goal of the pathway of baptismal faith; Jesus has reached the finish line first, but you and I who will triumph in the same contest will ultimately share it with Jesus. We read in Revelation 3:21, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.”
Christ is the giver of saving faith through the working of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is also our supreme inspirer of faith through His Gospel. When we become weary on the way, growing faint of heart because of the pains we suffer and there seems to be no end to the trials we have to endure, let us consider Christ. We remember that our pains are nothing compared to the pain He bore on our behalf. We give thanks that Christ has suffered and died for our sins so that we would have forgiveness. We rejoice that Jesus is risen from the dead and ascended into heaven waiting to bring us to the finish line of eternal glory in the new heavens and earth He will create for us who live by faith alone in Him. The Holy Spirit equips us to keep our eyes on the prize, looking to Jesus and the everlasting life He won for us through His suffering and pain. With faith in Christ, we are able to endure our pains here in this life, running with endurance the race that is set before us, looking forward to the new creation in the world to come where there will be no more pain.
Hear now your Lord’s promise of what waits for you at the finish line, when you have come through life’s trials and pains with faith in Christ Jesus. Revelation 21: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” (Revelation 21:1-5a) Amen.