Sermon Text: Hebrews 12:1-3
Date: March 19 & 20, 2016
Palm Sunday, Year C
Hebrews 12:1–3 (EHV)
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us get rid of every burden and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and let us run with patient endurance the race that is laid out for us. 2 Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who is the author of our faith and the one who brings it to its goal. In view of the joy set before him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of God’s throne. 3 Carefully consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinful people, so that you do not grow weary and lose heart.
Keep Your Focus
As a Cleveland sports fan in the middle of northern California, I know I’m in the vast minority, but when it comes to basketball season, my heart belongs to the Cleveland Cavaliers, no matter how good the Golden State Warriors are. However, there’s no denying that the talent level on the Warriors is amazing. Steph Curry in particular is breaking out as one of those names along with Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James that, even if you don’t know anything or even care about professional basketball, you probably at least know his name.
And if you happen to look at the sorts of things that Mr. Curry posts on Twitter, you notice an interesting trend. Before each game, he almost always posts just a simple phrase, “Lock in!” What does that mean? Well, he’s focused on the task ahead. Whatever happened earlier that day or earlier that week does not matter. Because now, for the next few hours, all that matters is focusing on the game in front of him and, most likely, coming away with a victory. It’s an indication of single-minded focus on one goal.
Most of us can’t, or at least don’t, do that. It’s difficult to focus on just one thing at the exclusion of everything else. If we don’t multitask at least a little bit, there’s a problem. Children start to run rough-shod over the house or over each other. Bills go unpaid because there’s no attention paid to them. Friendships and relationships start to suffer if work is too much of a focus. No, our attention often is and in many ways should be spread over multiple places at once. We can’t often “lock in” and focus on one particular task, job, or event, at least not for an extended period of time.
But the writer to the Hebrews urges us that we should have the kind of focus. No matter what the problems and challenges that we face might be, no matter how severe they might become, our focus should rest squarely on Jesus.
Those of you who have been able to be at our Sunday morning Bible Class lately know that we’ve been studying the book of Hebrews. The writer of this book is writing to Hebrew, or Jewish, Christians, those who had converted to Christianity from Judaism. And at the time that he’s writing, sometime before 70AD, that was a very dangerous decision. The Jewish believers often didn’t take kindly to Christians in general, and especially not those who left their faith to join the Christian faith. And beyond that, Christianity was more broadly illegal in the Roman Empire, and would remain that way for almost another 300 years. These men and women were risking everything up to their lives to hold their faith that Jesus was their Savior.
And so, as you might expect, some were beginning to think that this faith just wasn’t worth it. Was it worth it to lose family and friends because of religion? Was it worth it to put your job in harm’s way because of your faith? Was this belief system really worth losing your life for? The whole point of the writer’s letter is to encourage them, to demonstrate to them how much superior Jesus is to every other form of religious and spiritual thought that exists.
One of the ways he goes about doing that is showing how their faith in Jesus as Savior was actually the same faith as all the people who came before them. The Jewish believers leading up to the birth and work of the Messiah were all trusting that God would send a Savior. Now we share the same faith, it’s just that we know who that Savior was. Hebrews chapter 11 is that famous “Heroes of Faith” chapter of the Bible, where the writer to the Hebrews connects the Christian faith to the faith of those who have come before, with Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, etc.
These, then, are the great cloud of witnesses to which he refers as he begins chapter 12 of his letter. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us get rid of every burden and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and let us run with patient endurance the race that is laid out for us. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who is the author of our faith and the one who brings it to its goal.” What is the point? Our focus should not be backwards, even on those heroes of faith that have come before us. As much as we can learn from them and as inspiring as they may be, we ought to have our focus be where their focus was as well: on our Savior. We should keep our eyes focused on Jesus no matter what other garbage is around us and keep him as our priority.
Why? Because a focus on Jesus gives us perspective. The world may feel like it’s crashing down around us, but when we focus on Jesus, his will, and what he’s done for us, we gain his eternal perspective. That perspective shows us that while this world is important, it’s almost nothing compared to eternity and what the Lord has prepared for us.
All too often, though, we’re tempted to lose the focus we have on Jesus and let the worries, problems, or even the fun of this life cloud out that eternal perspective. We take our eyes off of Jesus and instead try to solve this problem or that problem on our own, thinking that we have the strength to do it all ourselves. We plunge headlong into fun and activities that might not be wrong in and of themselves, but serve as a tremendous distraction for what is truly important. We make gods out of work, family, sports, tv, movies, games, bills, money, anything that becomes more important to us than God. We take our focus off of Jesus.
Many influential and supposedly-positive preachers and teachers in the realm of Christianity want us to believe that Jesus has come to make our lives simple and easy. They want us to believe that Jesus has come to make us healthy and wealthy. And that message, hollow as it may be, rings alright when things are going well. But what happens when things aren’t going well? What happens when hardship and work and in your family feel like they’re crushing you? What happens when troubles and problems in our congregation seem to threaten the work we do or the unity we enjoy? What happens when the money starts to dry up and we’re not sure how next month’s bills are going to be paid or even where next week’s groceries are going to come from? At these times, this hollow “theology of glory” fails. Any faith system that mentions Jesus, even often, but focuses us on this life, not eternity, is a disaster.
As we hear the people’s praise ringing out for Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, we see Jesus coming to solve a problem that perhaps they didn’t realize they actually had. It seems likely that many of the people gathered on that road leading into Jerusalem thought that Jesus would be a physical or political Savior, that he would get rid of the Romans and restore the glory of the nation. But that, of course, isn’t what Jesus had in mind. Instead, he was coming to bring much greater relief and rescue. He was coming to rescue us from our sins. He was coming to save us from hell. He was coming to be the spiritual Savior of all mankind.
And that’s why we need to keep our focus on him. Because when we see Jesus as he really is, not just one to make us comfortable now, but one to secure us safely with him for eternity, everything else starts to fall into place. We will bear crosses in this life and suffer tremendous sorrow and hardship. But not forever. A time is coming when we will bid this world’s problems, sorrows, and even temporary joys farewell and join our Savior in the perfection of eternal life. Will that problem in your life still be troublesome? Yes. Will things still need to be worked and your skills applied to solve them? Yes. But if our focus is on Jesus, we will continue to have his eternal perspective and take him at his promise. No temptation will overwhelm us; nothing will separate us from his love. We can trust him today and for eternity to be there to save.
For all of those reasons, the writer to the Hebrews continues his encouragements: In view of the joy set before him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of God’s throne. Carefully consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinful people, so that you do not grow weary and lose heart. We don’t need to lose heart because our Jesus has conquered sin and death for us. We don’t need to grow weary because we are in this together, to encourage one another, and to continue to keep each other’s focus on Jesus as the solution to every sin. We can rejoice at Jesus’ march to the cross because there we see the love of God most clearly.
As we journey through this Holy Week, keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. See him give his very body and blood with bread and wine for you. See him allow himself to be betrayed for you. See him allow himself to be condemned for you. See him suffer not just crucifixion, but hell on the cross for you. See him conquer sin by his death and conquer death by his resurrection. Keep your focus on him.
Not just this week, but at all times, good and bad, keep your focus on Jesus. Stay in his Word, in your homes, at church, in Bible Class, in Sunday School and Catechism. Losing sight of him and what he’s done for you will mean disaster for us. But keeping his self-sacrificial and forgiveness-winning love in focus will bring and keep the perspective we so desperately need. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who is the author of our faith and the one who brings it to its goal. Amen.
EHV (Evangelical Heritage Version) copyright 2016 Watrburg Project, www.wartburgproject.org