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Entering the Kingdom

Entering the Kingdom

We have recently been involved in a bit of a miniseries of messages.

One topics has been carrying a cross, in which the call is to make Jesus the most important thing in your life, even if doing so causes relationship problems. Another topic was growing into spiritual maturity, in which the call is for us to love one another, which will be helped by making sure we who are Christians do not engage in bad things like malice, guile, insincerity, envy, or slander. The third topic was running the Christian race, in which we are called to, with the Lord’s help, exercise self-control over our bodies, minds, and souls.

Today, the last piece in the series, based on portions of Hebrews 12. The topic for this message is entering the Kingdom of God, which, including accepting Jesus as Savior, which is the first, most basic step, will result from Jesus being the most important thing in your life and living in love with other believers and exercising self-control.

Entering the Kingdom of God, but first, to set the stage, Hebrews 11, which lists many people who are examples for us of carrying a cross. 

Most of the people in Hebrews 11 were Old Testament people, so they lived long before Jesus died on the cross He carried, but they lived in ways that proved God was most important to them. They are, therefore, examples for us of growing to maturity and running spiritually.

Many, many people are listed in Hebrews 11. Here are just a few to give us a taste of examples we have. 

Enoch. He was so in tune with God, he was taken up to Heaven while he was still alive. That is impressive.

Noah. He was the builder of the ark, which allowed him, along with his family, to survive the Great Flood. He was chosen to survive because he was the only righteous man on earth at that time, and he was mature enough in his faith to keep building the boat for many years despite people making fun of him. What a crazy idea to build a boat where there was no body of water anywhere close and no one had ever yet seen rain, let alone a flood.

Sarah. The wife of Abraham. The one who, with her husband, despite their old age, began a great nation of God’s people.

Moses. He is the one who led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt. He led the people from Egypt to the very border of the land God promised to His people. He did that - Moses kept doing that - he kept running spiritually - despite endless problems with the people of God.

Rahab. She was the woman who helped spies from God’s people as the spies scouted out Jericho, which was the first city in the Promised Land the people of God had to conquer in their quest to take over the land. Rahab put herself at risk by helping the spies, but  she was determined that God was more important than her safety. 

David. He served as military leader and eventually king of God’s people. He was not perfect. At least twice he sinned very seriously. But he repented and returned to be in favor with God.

Then this, which is always the most intriguing to me. After identifying many heroes of faith by name, the author of Hebrews wrote this. “Some.” No names, just “some.” I am intrigued by the wording because it seems being famous is fine, but more important is staying loyal to God, growing in spiritual maturity, and running spiritually, no matter what.

Listen. “Some were tortured for believing in God, and refused to be released. Others [again, no names] were mocked and scourged, chained and imprisoned. They [still no names] were stoned, sawn in two [yikes], killed with the sword [which usually refers to being beheaded]. Destitute, afflicted, ill-treated” in other ways, but still stayed true.

The people named in Hebrews 11 and those described anonymously all did what we even now are instructed and challenged to do, which is for us to carry whatever cross the Lord gives us, grow into spiritual maturity, and keep running the Christian race.

Which brings us to chapter 12 of Hebrews

Verse 1. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” - the people just mentioned in chapter 11 - let us also do what they did. “Let us lay aside every weight. Let us lay aside sin which clings so closely. And let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”

In last week’s message we talked about running the Christian race. One of the points made was that to keep running, which we are to do, we need self-control. Control over our bodies, our minds, our souls. Another point was that to keep running until we cross the finish line - until we get to Heaven - is worth it because all who do so obtain the prize of eternal life.

Here is the same point about the need to keep running the Christian race. Here the challenge is to run with perseverance. With steadiness. With steadfastness. To keep running, which can be done by laying aside two categories of things. In last week’s message the wording was to exercise self-control in all things. In today’s passage the wording is to lay aside every weight and sin. 

Weight refers to anything that would slow us down. Things like loving this world so much we take our eyes off Jesus. Weight includes putting other people before Jesus.

Sin here refers to anything that might trip us up. We can think of it in terms of a long robe. If it is too long, if we try to move quickly, the robe is likely to get wrapped around our legs and feet, thereby tripping us, causing us to fall or at least stumble. That is what sin can and will do to us spiritually.

The people named and described in Hebrews 11 had each laid aside weights and sins. That is not to claim they were perfect. Followers of God still did and still do face temptations and struggles. But they were willing to ask for help with struggles and help to overcome the temptations, or ask for forgiveness if they did stumble or fall. Help and forgiveness from God. That is what we are to do.

According to verses 2 through 4, the audience watching us expands. It is not just the great cloud of witnesses who should serve as our examples of carrying a cross and having spiritual maturity and keep running the Christian race. Not just them who have exhibited laying aside every weight and every sin and running with perseverance the race that is set before us, which is the Christian race. We have another example. An even better one. One who was perfect in every way. Jesus.

There is much important information about Jesus in verse 2 through 4.

For instance, verse 2. Jesus is “the pioneer of our faith.” He is the one who made it possible for us to begin to have faith.

He is also “the perfecter of our faith.” The finisher of our faith.

How good to know how interested Jesus is in our faith. He never did, never does, and never will leave us floundering in our Christian faith. Through the Holy Spirit, He continues to inspire us to know Him and learn about Him and accept Him and obey Him.

All of which started when He “endured His own cross.” The cross He had to carry before He was nailed to it until He died. Jesus willingly did that, despite the shame associated with it. The shame and the pain.

Jesus endured the cross, according to the passage, “for the joy that was set before Him.”. Certainly not the joy of suffering or the joy of pain. Pain and suffering are anything but joyful things. But the joy of what was ahead for Jesus because He was willing to become the Savior, which happened when, on the third day following His death and burial, He came back to life.

And remember what happened a few weeks after that? Jesus returned to Heaven, where He “sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The right hand. The most important place beside God. The place, likening it to courts at that time, where the defender in a trial sat.

Do we get it? Jesus is the one ready to defend us. Satan can and will present all our sins before God. There is no hope for any of us, except for Jesus. All who have faith in Jesus are perfected. Each one will be defended by Jesus.

Back to joy. It was and is Jesus’ pleasure to defend us. It is that joy that persuaded Him to do what He did in enduring the cross despite the shame and pain involved. And - verse 3 - enduring the problem of the “hostility” Jesus faced from the religious leaders of His time. Leaders who were able to dissuade some people from following Him. 

Jesus did that so we do not have to grow weary or fainthearted. So we will not grow weary or fainthearted when we rely on Him.

Verse 4 gives another example of what Jesus’ suffered. It was the shedding of blood.

We of course think about the blood shed when Jesus was nailed to the cross. However, there was another shedding of blood for Jesus. It is recorded by Luke concerning Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before His arrest.

Jesus prayed that if there was some other way for Him to become the Savior - if God had some other plan - that was fine with Him. Jesus was ready to suffer. He made that point very clearly more than once. But He was in so much emotional agony as the time of His suffering approached that, according to Luke, Jesus’ sweat - the sweat of His brow - became “like great drops of blood falling to the ground.”

Jesus sweat blood. That is understandable. Being the Son of God, Jesus knew everything that was about to happen to him. He knew He was physically facing one of the most horrible forms of capital punishment that has ever existed. He also knew He would soon bear the trauma of taking the guilt for all sins upon Himself. He knew that under this weight of sin, God would forsake Him.

The point is that while we are called to carry a cross and grow into maturity and keep running the Christian race, we have never and I assume will never reach such agony that we will sweat blood. But Jesus did. If He went that far, we can, with His help, carry, grow, and run.

*       *       *       *       *

Jesus and the witnesses together. What wonderful inspirations they are to be for us to lay aside every weight and every sin that might slow us down or trip us up as we spiritually run with perseverance.

Let’s slip down to verses 12 and 13. “Therefore [this continues the challenges] lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet.”

We know, of course, that the Christian race can be tiring. It can be difficult to stay away from weights and sins, especially with them being so prevalent all around us. Sometimes it is exhaustion that threatens us - physically or emotionally, even spiritually perhaps. It can feel like it is difficult to lift our hands to continue to do our work. It can feel like it is difficult to stand up straight against the onslaught of spiritual enemies. But we are to lift our hands and stand up straight. We are to work with the Lord in making our Christian path straight, as in heading only one direction, which is directly toward the Lord.

In verse 14 is another instruction. Another part of running the Christian race. ‘“Strive for peace with all men.” 

The word “strive” is a key word. It reminds me of a verse in Romans. “If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.”

To me, that means there may be some people you or I just might not ever be able to get along with. But may that never be your fault or my fault. You and I are to do what we can to be at peace. Peace is what we are to strive for with all people, whether others make it easy or possible or not.

Strive for peace with others. Also strive for “holiness,” holiness defined as being different. Different from the world, as in trying to live in peace and working toward laying aside spiritual weights and sins, doing our best to persevere in running toward Jesus and Heaven.

We are to be different from the world. Why? So others can know about Jesus, in whose name we are different, worded this way in verse  14. “Without being holy in all ways no one will see the Lord.”

In verse  28 there is a wonderful promise. By accepting Jesus as the Savior He is and then by proving our acceptance by how we live - namely, taking up a cross, growing into spiritual maturity, and continuing the Christian race, and laying aside anything that might weigh us or slow us down and using the Lord’s help to keep our hands active and our knees strong for His service, and striving to live at peace with all and for holiness - by accepting Jesus and doing all that is listed in Hebrews 12, we will receive a kingdom. We will be accepted into a kingdom. A kingdom that cannot be shaken. The Kingdom of God. 

That is a promise that should inspire us to worship God. To worship Him in acceptable ways, which means to worship God with “reverence and awe.” It includes being genuine in our worship, concentrating on what we are doing, and making sure no one and no thing other than God - and Jesus and the Holy Spirit - are being worshiped.

We have done that, just like all other Sundays, in today’s service. We have worshiped God by speaking and hearing the sermon, based on the Bible. We have worshiped in song, including hymns of praise and instruction. We have worshiped in prayer. Our worship in that way included our display of trust that God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit both hear and answer our prayers and are pleased by our praises. We have worshiped in the giving of tithes and offerings. It is worship when we give to help God’s work done through our congregation. 

It is good to worship with reverence and awe as we use His strength to lay aside any and all spiritual dangers so we can run with perseverance, as we carry whatever crosses the Lord gives us, grow into spiritual maturity, and keep running the Christian race.

*       *      *       *       *

Today’s closing song is Only Trust Him. It reminds us of all Jesus, the Son of God, has done for us. It also provides a call to believe in Jesus. To do so without delay.

With that call comes the invitation for you to believe in Jesus - to accept Him - if you have not already done so. As we sing, if you need to accept Jesus, will you do that instead of singing? 

Accept Jesus. He is the only way to live properly. Only trust Him for the strength to live that way.

Come, every soul by sin oppressed,

There’s mercy with the Lord;

And He will surely give you rest

By trusting in His word.

Only trust Him, only trust Him,

Only trust Him now;

He will save you, He will save you,

He will save you now.

For Jesus shed His precious blood,

Rich blessings to bestow;

He offers now the crimson flood

To wash us white snow.

Only trust Him, only trust Him,

Only trust Him now;

He will save you, He will save you,

He will save you now.

Yes, Jesus is the Truth, the Way,

That leads you into rest:

Believe in Him without delay,

And you are fully blest.

Only trust Him, only trust Him,

Only trust Him now;

He will save you, He will save you,

He will save you now.

Lord, thank You for the great cloud of witnesses all around us. Witnesses who have proved it is possible to follow You to the end. Thank You that You are the main one in that great cloud, encouraging us to carry our crosses, grow into spiritual maturity, and persevere in the Christian race. The reward? Being part of Your unshakable Kingdom. Wow. What a privilege. Thank You, God. Thank You, Jesus. Thank You, Holy Spirit. Amen.

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