No Pain; No Gain
A sermon based on Hebrews 12:1-13
August 18, 2013 – Pentecost 13C
So a few weeks ago, I know that some of you ran a 5K. And I find that pretty impressive. While I've had many good intentions of getting on a Couch to 5K program, they've never really advanced beyond intentions. Some of you, I know have even run a half marathon—13 miles! And that impresses me even more. And I can't even begin to imagine running a whole marathon! More than 26 miles up and down various hills. That kind of running takes endurance—and I get winded after running more than a block.
This morning we hear the author to the Hebrews describe our Christian lives as a marathon of sorts. Life is not just a sprint where you give it your all for a short time and it's quickly over. No, it's a long distance run. It's easy to get worn out and want to throw in the towel long before the race is done. It takes stamina. It takes patience. It takes endurance.
But how do we keep running when the hills seem far too steep? How do we keep from losing our faith when the problems and challenges of life seem insurmountable? How do we run to the end when we're exhausted and hurting? This morning we're encouraged to remember the old maxim, "No pain; No gain."
When we remember that maxim, "No pain; No gain," we keep our focus where it ought to be. We remember the pain that Christ suffered for our gain and that the victory is already ours through him. We remember that the pain God allows us to endure now is not without its reward; It's for our own good—we gain strength in this life, and we gain a crown of glory that will never be taken away. And finally, we remember that God can use the pain we suffer not only for our gain, but for the encouragement of others as well.
Listen again to this word of encouragement recorded for us in Hebrews 12:1-13…
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. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "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 those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10 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. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 "Make level paths for your feet," so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.
I. Christ's Pain on the Cross For Us (v1-3)
It can be disturbing when the doctor says to you, "Whoa! I've never seen this before." When times are rough, it's nice to know that you're not the only one who's had this problem before. For this reason the author begins his encouragement to the Hebrews, who were going through some very difficult times of persecution, by reminding them of the example of those who had gone before them. He said, "we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses." Last week we looked at Abram's example of faith—believing that God would consider him righteous through the Savior descended from him even though he had no son. In fact, Hebrews 11, the Hall of Faith, is full of examples of others who have been there and done that. Read that chapter again sometime and recall how God strengthened those believers in their difficult times.
The author goes on to encourage these suffering Christians to "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." Back in high school soccer practice, I remember how Coach Kurbis would make us run up a steep hill he liked to call "The Motivator." I remember how I once ran up that hill wearing warm-up pants that were a bit too big for me (being hand-me-downs from my big brother). As I ran up the hill, I stepped on my own pant leg, tripped up and fell, getting cut on the rocky path.
In the first Olympics they would run naked because their clothes would only slow them down and trip them up. Today they run in spandex suits. No one would run wearing a robe like this one. It would trip them up. That's the picture the author is making. It's the same way with our sins. They trip us up in the race of our Christian life. If we let them get in our way, they will make us fall and lose the race. They will lead us to hell. So the author encourages the Hebrews and us, "Throw them off! Get rid of them all!"
But easier said than done, right? How do we get rid of sins? It seems impossible! Well… Good news! Though it is impossible for us, it's not for God. The author encourages us to look at Christ who already took care of our problem of sin! He says, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."
These verses are really the heart and core of our text. What gives us the strength to run the race all the way to the finish line? The fact that Christ already won the victory for us. We fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and pefecter of our faith. He is the beginning and the end of all we believe. He has completed our salvation for us. How did he do that? By enduring the cross. He suffered in this life, but he ran with perseverance. Burdened with the weight of our sin, he died on a cross. He took the punishment we deserve. He took our shame. He took our guilt. And there, being tortured to death, he said, "What of it?! I endure it all gladly for you and your glory." What stamina he had! To endure Hell itself! He went through the worst pain imaginable for our gain.
Now we can focus on our goal. We can keep our eyes on the finish line. Christ's pain, his death on the cross, won for us life eternal. Olympians train for years, giving up their social lives, putting in hours and hours of hard work every day, hopeful, yet uncertain if they will ever even place! We on the other hand, run the race of life already knowing the outcome. We already have the gold! We know that because of what Christ has already accomplished for us, we win. We have heaven itself as our certain finish line.
Now, motivated by his love for us and what he's already done for us on the cross, we find new resolve to keep running. We consider what he did for us and our certain reward and we don't grow weary and lose heart, but gladly endure all things with patience for the joy set before us.
II. Our Pain in Discipline For Us (v.4-11)
But if Christ already won the race for us, why not just take us to be with him in glory, with that great cloud of witnesses who already won? Or why doesn't he just make this life an easy one without so much pain and sorrow? Why does God allow us to suffer such hardships?
The answer may surprise you. The author to the Hebrews told them, "God allows you to suffer because he loves you." When God allowed suffering to enter the lives of the Hebrews, he was demonstrating his love, because he was strengthening them in their faith. Running "The Motivator" in soccer practice again and again felt like punishment while we were running it, but when it came time for the game, we were stronger, able to run faster and longer. When God allowed the Hebrews to endure hardships, it was his loving hand allowing them to suffer for their own good.
But it's sometimes hard to believe when the one giving the discipline says, "This is harder on me, than it is on you. Trust me son, this is for your own good." How could they be sure their sufferings were caused by God's love and not by his anger?
He writes, " …you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "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 those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." 7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons."
He reminds them of God's Word. In Proverbs chapter 3 God had told them that he would discipline his sons. They knew the promises of Scripture, they had just forgotten. They needed a reminder that God disciplines and punishes those he loves and those he accepts as sons. In Christ and the forgiveness he won for us on the cross, we become God's sons and daughters. He no longer plans to punish us for our sin. He already punished Christ for them. Now he lovingly disciplines us so we grow stronger. The author reminded the Hebrews of this "word of encouragement."
He goes on, "For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10 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."
The Hebrews knew, not just from God's Word, but also from experience that discipline is done out of love and not out of anger. When I see my three year old try to run in front of a car, I say, "NO, Judah!" pull him back and gently slap his hand, because I love him. In fact, no one would believe that I really loved my son if I let him get hit by a car. If I let Judah get run over, you would consider me cruel and unloving. Love disciplines.
And we've all been disciplined before. We may have thought our parents were cruel for grounding us. We may not have enjoyed it when the officer wrote out the speeding ticket. But in hindsight, our parents were only trying to keep us out of trouble. If everyone drove however fast they wanted, I'd be afraid to drive. The officer was trying to keep the streets safe and me alive. The discipline that came our way was for our benefit.
Here the author uses another of those "from the lesser to the greater" arguments. If our sinful parents and sinful leaders discipline us for our own good, how much more won't God, the Father of our spirits, the one who gave us spiritual life in Christ, who had us baptized, buried with Christ and washed away our sins, how much more won't he do what's best for us! Our fathers and our leaders can goof up when they discipline. But God our heavenly Father is perfect in knowing what's best and he's perfect in his love for us.
Finally, the writer to the Hebrews reminds them of the blessed results of their discipline. He wrote, "…How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10 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. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."
When God disciplines us, he draws us closer to himself. It's been said that when you're lying on your back in the hospital bed the only way to look is up. Through our difficult times, God keeps us relying on him. He strengthens our faith in him, so that in the end we will live. We will receive the eternal life in heaven that is ours now. We will share in God's holiness, being perfect just like he is. We will receive that harvest of perfect righteousness and eternal peace because we've been trained by God's discipline.
III. Our Pain in Discipline For Us (v.12-13)
Finally, the author to the Hebrews reminds them that the suffering and the discipline God sent them wasn't only for their own good, as God's spiritual therapy made them stronger. But their pain was also for the gain of those around them. By the way they reacted to the discipline God sent their way, they could encourage one another. He wrote, "Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. "Make level paths for your feet," so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed."
A young woman once came to her father with complaints about the persecution and trials that she faced as a Christian. Her father, a famous chef, took her into the kitchen, filled a pot with water and put it on the stove bringing the water to a boil. He then put a crisp carrot in the water. After letting it boil for a while, he pulled it out and said, "Some people react to hardships like this carrot. They're strong and hard until they're put in boiling water. Then they grow weak and soft." He then put an egg in the water and let it boil. After awhile he pulled it out and cracked it open and said, "Others are like this egg. They go in the boiling water ready to crack and run all over the place, but come out hardened and strong." Finally, the chef put some coffee grounds in the water, let them sit for a while and poured two cups of coffee, one for himself and one for his daughter. "But still others," he said, "are like this coffee. They go into the boiling water and change it."
When people see how you react to your problems in life… When they see how you keep your focus on Christ and on the pain he suffered to take away your sins… When they hear you thank God for the discipline and hardships you suffer, knowing that God is working for your good… They will want to know what makes you strong enough to handle the pressure and you too can change the water. You can tell them how you keep your focus on Christ, who's already won the race for you. That's what keeps you running. In his name, dear friends, amen.