Hebrews 12: The Joy Spread Out
Vineyard Church of Milan
Invitation to turn to Hebrews 12…
Just finished with the hall of faith from Hebrews 11 last week, the men and women of old who gave the future a big kiss, and even though they didn’t get to experience it in its fullness, they got to play a part in welcoming it, in preparing a way for what God has done and is doing in Jesus. Their faith made them famous, speaks to us even now, and joins them to us and the new creation work God is doing in our world even today. Their faith is what lay underneath their hopes, it’s what gave them the confidence to take great risks for the sake of joining God in his forward movement in the world. And even though their lives were a mixed bag in terms of hitting the mark for God’s best desires for them, their faith put them in good standing with him, gave God great pleasure, opened up the door for the life of the heavens to flow into their lives.
As a way of helping us get a sense of why the author of Hebrews took us on that trip down memory lane, and where he or she is taking us today in chapter 12, let’s look at the scenes based on Hebrews 11 & 12 from a film that won two academy awards last year and generated a RottenTomatoes score of 98%...
[Scenes from Up where Carl looks through old picture book, & sees Russell take off on a rescue mission, and empties out his house to join him in the adventure…]
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, 2fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, the lives of those who have gone before us tell us that even when we seem to be surrounded in darkness, God is up to something glorious in the world, something worth leaving everything else behind to join him in. And that the best way to move forward is to catch a glimpse of Jesus, and keep him in view before us, and do everything that makes sense to do with Jesus in view.
Who is this great cloud of witnesses? And what are they witnessing?
The word for witness in Greek is martyr, and that word is used repeatedly in the previous chapter, Hebrews 11, in reference to these famous men and women of faith. Which means the great cloud of witnesses is those men and women, and all who have lived by faith like them.
And it’s tempting to imagine that they are gathered around watching us, cheering us on. Which, when the going gets tough, would be an encouraging thought, would it not? And for all I know, they may well be.
But that doesn’t seem to be the sense of this passage. And it’s not an idea specifically supported elsewhere in scripture.
No, these witnesses are called witnesses because they are bearing witness to something they have seen. And what they have seen isn’t us. It’s something else, something we long to see too.
Remember, they had faith to act because they saw what was promised and welcomed it from a distance. They are witnesses of what was promised. Even though they didn’t receive it, they saw it. And their lives of faith tell us about what they saw.
They have witnessed the coming kingdom, God’s good future ahead of us. Fully present in Jesus. When the darkness presses in around us, that’s what we need someone to bear witness to. When the going gets tough. When the temptations get strong to stop pressing forward with God’s good purposes in the world. When discouragement is knocking at our door. When a longing for comfort or convenience or ease threatens to make our feet slip from the new creation path. We need someone to say, no, look ahead – it’s there, it’s coming, it’s good, it’s glorious, there is life and joy and peace and freedom and wonder in the kingdom of God, and the kingdom is near, the kingdom is here, the kingdom is at hand. I’ve seen her, I’ve welcomed her, her lips have brushed against mine, and she tastes like honey.
Since this great cloud of witnesses has seen it, and risked everything on it, and since they surround us, our faith stands on their faith. They point us to it, helping us open our eyes to the coming Kingdom, God’s good future ahead of us, and already present among us.
Therefore, …what? Therefore run. Run into it, with perseverance, and joy. Strip down. The clothing you wear to impress, protect, hide – discard it, lay it aside (see Abraham and his father’s household…ending up in tents). The passing pleasures of missing the mark (sin – “hamartia” – tragic flaw, missing the mark) (see Moses in Egypt, leaving the Pharoah’s court behind) – they will entangle your feet, so lay them aside (see Israel in the wilderness, the desire to go back to Egypt – sin always produces fear, what we need for this adventure is faith.). Whatever is behind you, whatever you have worn to make it in the world you’ve been in – you don’t need it anymore. You don’t need it where you are going, and it will only slow you as you join God’s forward movement in the world, movement into deeper, more intimate relationship. You have a new city ahead of you, a new world, new rewards.
Let us run with endurance. Set off knowing it’s going to be a long race, one that takes perseverance, patience. That there are likely to be moments where you want to give up. That the landscape will change along the way. That it’s more about finishing than beating anyone else.
Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame…
Like Abraham, Jesus left his Father’s household for the joy set before him. Like Moses, Jesus left the privilege of the King’s household for the joy set before him. He treated those otherwise good things as weight that encumbered. As “hamartia” that entangled. He laid them aside to run.
Like the Father in the famous parable Jesus told… hiking up his clothes to run to the prodigal son. For the joy set before him…
Let’s hold our horses for a moment, though. The joy was set before Jesus, spread out in front of him. But it’s not as if he was surrounded by it yet, immersed in it. He could see it and welcome it from a distance. But between him and the distance set before him, there was still a distance. And surely Jesus felt that distance as much as he felt that joy… (lazarus, “get behind me satan”, Jerusalem, garden of Gestemene…)
But back to the joy. What is the joy set before Jesus? The kingdom of God is the joy set before him. The city Hebrews will speak of later, filled with God’s kids and the feasting and music and dancing of all things set right. The better country… (elaborate)
But it was ahead of him, down a difficult road.
Jesus saw that joy, and he had the faith to endure the cross without shame. Naked. Unencumbered…(royal robes taken off) No shame – no missing the mark… (Remember David and Goliath…? 1 Samuel 17: David telling the soldiers not to “lose heart.” Getting rid of Saul’s encumbering armor? Seeing God’s good future, filled with faith, hitting the mark…)
41Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. 42He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44“Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”
45David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
48As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.
50So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.
51David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.
When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. 52Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron. 53When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camp.
54David took the Philistine’s head and brought it to Jerusalem; he put the Philistine’s weapons in his own tent.
Is that not Jesus’ story? Is not Death’s head on a platter in the heavenly Jerusalem? Are not the enemy’s weapons buried forever in his tomb?
Except by faith, we can’t see it but through a glass darkly – the kingdom, the city, the better country. But we can see Jesus. We can fix our eyes on him. In the witness of the scriptures. In the testimony of our brothers and sisters. In our brothers and sisters. In the broken body and the shed blood of the communion meal. By his manifest presence through the Holy Spirit. By personal encounter with him in the place of prayer where the heavens and the earth intersect and the veil is torn. Let’s fix our eyes on him. That’s what we need to run this race. To join with God’s forward movement in the world.
1. Ditch your armor so you can run. Identify 1 thing you use to protect yourself from risk, to keep yourself comfortable, to avoid being vulnerable, and ditch it so that you can join God’s forward movement into deeper relationship with him or with those in this hurting world.
2. Face your fear. It can lead you to your sin – the missing of the mark in your life - that threatens to entangle you. So that you can ditch it too, and run forward not backwards.
3. Let Hebrews light up John. Read John 16 to 20 and think about it in the light of Hebrews 12.