Saturday, March 28, 2009

How Goes The Race? Part II

Yesterday we took at look at this passage and saw that these first century readers were to run their race not thinking about those in chapter eleven as spectators who were watching them, but thinking of their testimony as examples exhorting them on in faithful endurance. You and I are also exhorted to run our race given to us by our Lord with endurance. We need to frequently visit chapter eleven and meditate on this parade of witnesses as encouragement to run with endurance. There is a second reason that our writer exhorts these readers to run with endurance and that is The Preamble to Salvation “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us…” The word here in our text means a bulk, a mass. Whatever is prominent, like protuberance, bulk, or mass. As a result it came to mean a burden, weight, or an encumbrance. Since our writer is using an analogy to the Greek races, we are led to think of the runners in these early races who would remove anything and everything that would hinder or impede them while running. For example clothing would be removed so as not to bind them up, many runners actually ran naked so that even the lightest and least restrictive clothing would not hinder them. Some runners would even shave every follicle of hair on their body to reduce even the minutest hindrance or encumbrance. Secondly, let’s look at the sin which so easily ensnares us. What is that? Well read a dozen commentaries and you can get 13 different answers. The first thing we encounter when we examine this word is the fact that this is the only time it is used in the NT. So, we can’t go to different contexts and see how other writers used it. We are limited to this one usage to determine its meaning. It is a compound word, three different Greek words are put together to construct this word. It includes within its meaning “readily, deftly, cleverly and to place itself around. It gives the idea of quickly, easily, cleverly encircling around something or someone, like a runner. So, the weight is anything that hinders or encumbers, or slows down a runner and the ensnaring or encircling sin is the sin that cleverly wraps itself around a runner and prevents a runner from running or especially from winning the race. Now, something about this phrase bothered me. I could not put my finger on it. Every commentary made an immediate and direct application to modern day readers like you and me to put off any weight that would hinder you and me from running our race. They mentioned weights like pride, hobbies, amusements, bad habits, TV, worldliness, improper attachments to things, and etc. But what bugged me was the tense of the verbs. They are in the aorist tense not the present tense. It kept coming at me that these readers had already done this, not that they were to do it. The question came to me then, when did they do this? Keep in mind even the analogy of the race is not saying that these runners had weights on their body or in their hand and then as they were running they dropped them off. How silly is that? They had already taken the steps to remove any weights and the sin before they ran. So when did they do this and what does this phrase really mean? Well, you have to ask the question who is speaking in this text? And when you determine that you must ask and answer who is being spoken to? First century Jews who had become believers in the messiah and were part of “Christian churches” that is the “who”, who is being spoken to. So, the question is why is our writer reminding them of this? Well, as Perry Mason would say after Hamilton Burger objected, that goes to motive your honor. Let’s take a minute and look at the motive our writer had in writing this letter and this exhortation. After a number of readings of this letter and intense study on more than one occasion I am convinced the our writer is writing to believers, to people whom the writer believes to be believers, who are also Jews who have been formerly practicing Jews. These Jews have been persuaded by the HS to place their faith and their trust in Jesus as the Messiah and Savior. When they did that they did something to immediately make them an enemy of their fellow Jews and to precipitate persecution. The demonstrated their faith and commitment by baptism. Which is natural right? The great commission tells us to make disciples and one part of making a disciple is to baptize them. Those on the day of Pentecost who gladly received His word were what? Baptized. There was no such thing as an un-baptized believer in the early church. Yes, they taught and instructed the new believer and wanted evidence of true conversion before they did baptize, but there is no evidence of believers fully admitted into the church without baptism. Their baptisms were a little different than ours. When we baptize it is in one of our buildings, normally with family and friends in attendance. But here in the first century, baptism was outdoors, very public and the Jews would know who had left Judaism for “Christianity” and they would immediately condemn them as unclean, which means they could not worship or offer sacrifices in the temple, they were put out of the synagogue, they were ostracized, and they would even be subject to abuse like being spit on, stones thrown at them, public insults and defamation's, and sometimes families would hold funerals to show that they were dead to them. Many times the believers would loose their jobs. They would be unable to work in the communities because they would be considered unclean. So, becoming a believer, or a disciple of Jesus and then submitting to baptism would bring persecution, sometimes, intense persecution. These believers – and there is no evidence to believe that the writer to the Hebrews were not believers were undergoing intense persecution. So intense was the persecution that they were thinking of abandoning Christ, the church, and returning to Judaism with the rituals, ceremonies, feasts, and sacrifices. Now, at their conversion, they had laid aside rituals, ceremonies, feasts, sacrifices, and such in order to turn from them and to turn to Jesus Christ as their means of salvation. These things are weights now that the shadow has been fulfilled by the substance. These are weights that would hinder them from running the race before them, so they threw them off at their conversion. The sin mentioned in verse 2 is unbelief, or lack of faith. Lack of believing can very easily, cleverly, quickly, encircle and ensnare one and keep one from believing. So, our writer tells these believers since you have already laid these things aside, including unbelief, run the race that is before you, that God has given you with endurance, steadfastness, or constancy. Endurance, meaning the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials or sufferings. It means patiently, and steadfastly, with a patient, steadfast waiting for something, or patient enduring, sustaining, and perseverance So, run the race with endurance, do not be swerved from your purpose and loyalty even by these persecutions or trials, because of the parade of saints, because of the fact that the OT saints even though they suffered intense persecution like torture, death, hardship, starvation, homelessness and nakedness ran their race with success. And run your race with endurance because the preamble to salvation, because of the fact that you have already dropped those things, considered to be weights and even unbelief that would hold you back.
Great reasons to run with endurance, right?

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