Sermon for the 6th Sunday in Lent – Palm Sunday April 9, 2017
Text: Hebrews 12:1-3 revised 3-year series B 17:2007
Theme: Christ, Our Reason to Endure
It’s one of the saddest stories in the Bible. One day 2 brothers were in the field together. Without warning the older one rose up in a fit of rage, jealous of his brother’s friendship with God. Cain killed his brother Abel. The world’s first murder, a sad story! But there’s a happy ending. Abel believed in Christ and showed his love by bringing good offerings in faith. The Lord took him to heaven (Hb.11:4).
Even though Abel is long gone and we never knew him personally, he is still speaking to us today. You can’t hear his voice in your ear, but his example of faith rings out to encourage you. The first to give up his life for the sake of Christ calls: “It’s worth it, my friend. Keep going in faith. Endure and one day you’ll be with the Lord like I am.”
Next came Enoch. He’s the man that never died. He endured in faith, and the Lord took him to heaven.
Then came Noah. Trusting God he built a great boat to house his family and animals during the flood that was coming. His unbelieving neighbors laughed and ridiculed him. But Noah kept going in faith. He endured, obeyed God, and is now with Him in heaven.
After awhile there was Abraham. He left his home when God called Abram to follow wherever the Lord took him. He had no idea where he was going. But he didn’t protest. Instead, in faith he followed the Lord’s guiding. He endured through many challenges in life. Abram never had a home to call his own; he lived in a tent all his life. But he had God’s promise of the Savior and a great number of descendents who would follow. At the end of his life God gave him an eternal city in heaven. Its builder is the Lord Almighty.
Then came Abraham’s son Isaac; and then his grandson, Jacob. Boy, they had their difficult times here. Their wives died; their offsprings’ families fought with each other; they lost children; they got sick and went blind; but they never gave up in faith. They endured. And when they left this world, they left to go where Christ’s eternal blessings are always on them in heaven.
Then there was Joseph, Moses’ parents, and Moses himself who could have risen to the position of power, wealth, and honor as the king of Egypt. He could have had and done anything he wanted. Instead, he gave up that life so that he might lead God’s people through a desert to the best land on earth. Moses never got to live there; but because of his enduring faith in Christ, he dwells in the best place of all, the Promised Land of heaven.
Oh, there are so many others to talk about. Some with whom you are very familiar; others you don’t know too well. You ought to read their stories in the Bible. But known by you or obscure in your understanding, that which stands out as common among them all is that they were people with one characteristic that united them. Each had their problems, and sometimes they turned out to be their own worst enemies. Yet, they clung to Christ in faith, and are now with Him above. He was their reason to endure.
There was Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephtha, David, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Uzziah, Hezekiah, John the Baptizer…ah, the list goes on and on into New Testament times and beyond. Some were jeered by those around them; others were flogged to an inch of their lives; they were chained in prisons, pelted with rocks, sawed in two, crucified, beheaded, killed by wild animals, burned at the stake. Many were so poor and destitute that they only had the clothes on their backs. They slept wherever they lay, sometimes in caves, other times hiding in holes in the ground, using rocks for their pillows. During life here it seemed like none of them got what they were promised. But, through an enduring faith in Christ they are now with God in the blessedness and joy of heaven.
How do all these people relate to you? Our text says that they surround you, a great cloud of witnesses.
You barely know their names. But each one, in a sense, knows you and is constantly encouraging: “Dear friend, keep on going in your faith in Christ. By God’s grace we did, in spite of ourselves. You have great reason to endure. You can’t imagine the greatness of the eternal blessings we now enjoy. Keep on keeping on! You’re going in the right direction!”
Ah, dear friends, we are not alone! No Christian ever stands by himself. The many saints who have gone before us show that we are not alone in our struggle to confess Christ, our King, and to shout His Hosannas! Like a cloud their examples are visible to us in the Scriptures, though we cannot touch those who have gone before. They are examples of right faith and good works through endurance in Christ and only through Christ as Savior, for none of them was ever perfect in himself. Yet, they endured.
Our text compares this aspect of endurance to the perseverance of
an athlete. Consider the dedication, the hours of work, the stamina that
Last Friday some of our family was watching a hockey game while I was preparing dinner. The endurance of such athletes is incredible. I used to do a lot of skating when I was young, even played a little hockey. But there would be no way that I could keep up with those on TV. Perhaps for 1 or 2 minutes – an up and down on a rink of ice and I’d be done. But they go on and on, for 3 periods of time, at awesome speeds and intensity. I would fall at the first change of direction, exhausted. But they keep going because they have trained, dedicated themselves, and set their focus on the goal. Then they throw off everything that would hold them back from it.
So we are to approach our faith in Christ, like that great cloud of witnesses from the past. We are to “lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely to us” and impedes our progress. Sin of any kind can wraps itself around us and trips us like a floppy coat entwines itself around a skater’s legs and makes him crash to the ice. You don’t see hockey players going at it with anything that impedes their progress. So why do we allow sin to entangle our lives?
Think of Judas. He once was a disciple of Christ. Perhaps, he sang Hosannas with the rest on Palm Sunday. But he did not endure. He lost his focus on Christ. The desire for money and nice things became his obsession. He had to have as much as he could get. And when the opportunity came to “sell” Jesus, he did it for 30 pieces of silver. That may sound like a lot, because it was “silver.” But it wasn’t. The price could be compared in value to the cost of a cast-away dog that you might buy from the humane society. Yet, because of his greed and personal ambitions, Judas gave up his soul, sold his Lord Jesus, and in the end didn’t even get to use the money given him. And the worst part of all – he is now in hell. That’s what sin, if it entangles, will get you.
“Throw it off,” the cloud of witnesses cries. “Keep on keeping on in faith. Don’t stop believing. You’ve got reason to endure – Christ!”
Don’t stop living your faith, dear friends, because you have the only thing in this world worth believing in – Christ. Everything else will perish, but not Christ or the eternal blessings He won for you this holy week so many years ago. “Consider Him who endured,” the writer says. “Looking to Jesus…who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary or faint of heart.”
Christ did this for you willingly, obediently, gladly, determined in
love. This was His reason for entering Jerusalem today on Palm Sunday. He did not turn away, even though He understood perfectly what lay ahead for Him. But in love He rode onward; He went forward for you. Consider it all as we see it unfold once again this coming Holy Week. He is the cause of your forgiveness and life with God; He is your reason to endure. It’s worth it, dear friend. It’s worth it.
So “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles; run with perseverance the race marked out. Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith.” He’s the reason to endure. Is it a struggle? Oh, it can be for Satan will not let you go so easily. But ask Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and the rest. They will tell you that the Savior and heaven are worth enduring for. God grant it to us for Jesus’ sake. Amen.