Tony Evans - Never Give Up
The book of Hebrews was written to Christians who were losing heart. This is a book written to discourage Christians who didn't know whether it was worth it to keep going. The struggle was too great, the difficulty was too daunting. The pain was too palpable, and the question was, "Is it worth keeping going"? And many wanted to quit. They wanted to go back to the old way. They wanted to abandon Christ, to abandon Christianity. So the author of Hebrews writes the book to challenge them not to lose heart. So we find ourselves in Hebrews chapter 12 where he says: "Therefore since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him who has endured such hostility by sinners against himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart".
My challenge for me, as I preach to me, as I preach to us, is simply to never give up. As hard as things have been, as hard as things are, the author of Hebrews is telling them and is speaking to us and he's saying, "Never give up". In chapter 10, for example, he says in verse 35: "Therefore do not throw away your confidence which has great reward, for you have need of endurance so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised". Verse 39: "And we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the persevering of the soul". What he is simply saying is: "Don't give up". As hard as it is, as challenging as it has been for me, for you, and I speak to us, the Word of the Lord for today in the reset that he is doing is don't give up.
Now, that's easy to say, and I'm sure most would agree with having heard it, but a lot of things are easier to say than to do, 'specially when you're overwhelmed by life's negative realities. So he's going to say three things to help you and me and us, in spite of all the turmoil we are in personally, ecclesiologically, culturally, racially, politically, socially, economically. Never give up. The first thing he wants to say is to encourage you never to give up: "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us". "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us". Now, whenever you see the word "therefore" in the Bible, you must ask what it's there for. "Therefore" means "in light of what I just said. That's what I'm getting ready to talk about, but it's predicated on what I just said".
Now, you have to read all of Hebrews 11 to get his point about the cloud of witnesses. A witness gives agreement or testimony to something. A witness in a courtroom gives testimony to the reality of what is being said. He calls them a cloud of testimony givers or witnesses. He says, "These witnesses are surrounding us," present tense. They're right here, right now, and they will testify. The author of Hebrews says there is a cloud of witnesses, there is a body of people who will testify that you can make it and that you ought never give up. That testimony is given by men and women who are described in chapter 11. Now, obviously, time will not allow us to go through 40 verses in chapter 11 over each person, but I will sum it up with the first couple of verses of chapter 11: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen, for by it the men of old gained approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the Word of God so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible".
The cloud of witnesses that he goes on to describe, he will say the words "by faith," then he'll give the name of the witness, and then he'll tell you what the witness did. He will say, "By faith, this witness," Abraham, Abel, Noah, Enoch, Sarah, Rahab, on and on, and then he'll tell you what they did, by faith. So the testimonies that he gives in 11, leading him to talk to us, beginning in chapter 12, is a testimony that the key to making it and not giving up is learning to live by faith. So that's the key. He says, "Faith is the conviction or persuasion of what you don't have: empirical evidence to validate". In other words, faith has to deal with unseen reality. Faith is different than sight. Sight is something you have empirical reality, you can look at it with your own two eyes. He says, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for". It involves an expectation: hope. It is being confident about the expectation, and the way you know you're confident about the expectation is that you move in faith even though you haven't seen it yet.
So you don't see it, but it's real and you have to move by faith in light of what you do not see. He says, "Let me illustrate what I'm talking about". He says, "We know that the worlds were created by the Word of God". But I don't know that anybody has seen God. So what you see, the world, came from somebody you don't see. In other words, we know God is real not because we've seen God, but we've seen what he can do. If you and I are going to not quit, give up, throw in the towel, we must learn to live by faith, and faith is not merely the event when you got saved. It is supposed to be the lifestyle that you live now that you are saved. He says in Romans 14:23, "Whatever is not of faith is sin," so to not live by faith is to live sinfully. He says in 2 Corinthians 5:7 that "we walk by faith, not by sight". Since we have a cloud of witnesses, witnesses testify.
Now, some of these people, you don't know how they got in here. You don't know how they got in here. You say, "They don't belong in here". But that's the good news. You can start where you are. You can start where you are and say, "The rest of my life, I'm going to live by faith. I'm going to act like God is telling the truth, even though I don't see the result yet". And he talks about creation, he says, "We live in a world created by somebody you don't see, but you don't say God doesn't exist 'cause I don't see him". So when them wanna deny God, they go to evolution, "fairy tales for adults," that everything has come out of nothing from nobody. So his challenge is a faith challenge. All of the people he names are from the Old Testament, so this is one of the reasons you read the Old Testament. It's full of stories, but it's full of narratives designed to challenge you to live by faith in the New Testament. Since we are surrounded by all these Old Testament saints, he says, "You keep going".
Now, one other thing about this first point that I've been on too long. And that is that these Old Testament saints, it concludes by saying at the end of chapter 11, verse 39: "Having gained approval through their faith". 11:39 says they gained approval. To be approved, you must finish by faith. So these approved people in chapter 11 are the ones, not Christians in general, but these approved people are the witnesses that God uses to keep us going by faith. So the first thing are the witnesses. The second thing is you, verse 1 of chapter 12: "Laying aside every encumbrance and sin, which so easily entangles us". He says, "I want you to remove encumbrances," he says, plural, and he says, "I want you to remove the sin," singular.
Now let's move between the plural and the singular. An encumbrance is something that is extra baggage, something holding you down. An encumbrance is simply baggage that's keeping you from moving forward by faith. It's slowing you down, it's hindering you, it's limiting your spiritual progress. And so it is an encumbrance. So what is some encumbrance? People can be encumbrances. See, you got the wrong folk in your life, they can hold you back with human thought, with secular thinking, with faithless points of view. So people can be encumbrances, the past can be encumbrances, playthings can be encumbrances. What he says is something that holds you back, slows you down, from moving by faith.
Now, remember, we're talking about your movement now. What is the faith action God wants me to take? Then he says, "The sin". The sin that he has been talking about all Hebrews long, that he focuses on, of course, in chapter 11 and in chapter 12, is the sin of unbelief. He calls it an entangling sin, that entangles us. In other words, every other sin you commit is because you don't believe God. See, because we don't believe God, we commit a sin. Unbelief is the entangling sin. If you solve the problem of faith, you've greatly impacted the problem of sin, because you haven't gotten tangled in unbelief. And remember, by belief, we're not talking about first your emotions; we're talking about your footsteps, the decisions that you make to say, "I'm going to trust God with this situation, even though I don't see the outcome yet". He said, "Lay it aside," push it to the side, the sin, the distraction, the excess baggage, "that so easily holds us back".
The last thing he wants to talk аbout: first of all, you've got some witnesses that are here to testify; then you've got a responsibility to get rid of anything holding you back from walking by faith; and then he comes to the sine qua non. He comes to the main point. He says, "Fixing our eyes on Jesus". Look at your witnesses, look at yourself, but get fixated on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. You are not living this faith life alone. He calls Jesus the author, that means the originator; the perfecter, that means the completer. That's like you and me saying, "A to Z; beginning to end; alpha, omega". Jesus Christ got you started when you got saved. He's gon' bring you to completion when this life is over, and he's available for you to piggyback on on the ride there.
He says, "If you will become fixated on Jesus," if you will become an obsessed Christian, not a casual Christian, not even fixated on God the Father; he's talking about a Jesus fixation. He says, "Fixing your eyes," your spiritual perspective, "on Jesus Christ," who got you into this at salvation, who's gonna get you to completion when life is over, and who can walk you along the way. You can't ignore life's struggles that make you tired. There are realities that you can't ignore. He says, "But don't fixate on 'em". Every time life closes in on you, that is a reminder: take a peek at Jesus, because Jesus's job is to carry you through that sweaty, weighty, difficult, lonely, traumatic, painful period you are going through. He is there to help you. Fixing your eyes on Jesus.
Now, watch this. How do I do this? He says, "For the joy set before him". Okay, he bringing up Easter. Friday was a tiring day in Jesus's life, okay? He's already sweat tears like drops of blood 'cause of what he's getting ready to go through on the cross, which included being separated from his Father, and it meant bearing the sins of the whole world. All he could say, like you and I coming through this past year, is, "Let this cup pass from me. I don't want any more. It's too hot to handle. It's too overwhelming. Give me a break". That's what Jesus was saying. "I need a break from this. In my humanity, I don't wanna have to deal with wearing the sins of the whole world and being separated from my Father. I don't wanna have to go; however, not my will but thy will be done". So he made a faith decision in a frustrating circumstance. He says, "I'm gon' do your will even though I don't want to".
You ever been like that? You don't wanna do God's will. You tired of trying to do God's will, but you make the decision to walk by faith in spite of how you feel. He says Jesus made that decision. The question is, what was his motivation in his humanity to make that decision? It says: "For the joy set before him". All the time he was struggling with Friday, he was thinking about Sunday, okay? Let me say that again. He struggled with Friday. Now, I know we got, you know, we sanitized the cross. That was a nasty situation. That wasn't fun and games. That was bloody and gory. You saw the movie "The Passion of the Christ". It gave you a much more realistic vision of what was involved with the cross. But he kept his mind on Sunday and beyond. On Sunday he was gonna get up from the grave. After Sunday, he was gonna ascend 40 days later to his Father. Then he was gonna be seated on the right-hand side of his Father. Then the prophecy is that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess to the glory of God the exaltation of Jesus Christ.
So he kept looking at what God had in store. And while he was looking at that, he was able to deal with this. I would love to be one of those preachers who could prophesy you don't get sick. I'd love to be one of those preachers who could prophesy you never gonna have a financial breakdown, that you never gon' be lonely, that you never gon' struggle, but that would be a lie because we know better. No matter how spiritual you are, you're human spiritual, which means life hits you and sometimes it breaks your heart. But he says, without denying the reality of Friday, don't miss the reality of Sunday, that God is taking you somewhere if you will keep going by faith. He says, "Keep your eyes on Jesus, look to Jesus, talk to Jesus, pray to Jesus". He closes with these words: "For consider him. Keep your mind on him who has endured such hostility by sinners against himself so that you will not grow weary and so that you will not lose heart".
You know, there's a big difference between a high jumper and a pole vaulter. A high jumper goes about 8 feet 'cause they're using all their human strength to get 'em over that. A pole vaulter goes 18 feet. Now, both are running, but one is running totally dependent upon their own strength. The other pole vaulter is running, leaning on the pole to propel them. So the pole vaulter goes higher than the high jumper because he is leaning on something other than his own or her own human capacity. He says, "I want you to pole vault in your weariness on Jesus".
That means you gotta carry Jesus as your partner. You gotta carry Jesus as your road buddy. That means you gotta be talking to him not just at grace; you and he are rolling throughout the day because you're piggybacking on Jesus. Sometime life will knock you down. Sometime you'll tear with a broken heart. Sometimes you'll be in broken circumstances. But I know somebody, even though he lives up there, he's willing to come down here and take the broken and the beaten and the abused and give you a divine reset so that he can still take you, your family, take us, the church, across the finish line. So you keep the faith, 'cause you got a cloud of witnesses. You've got some decisions to make and you've got King Jesus, who's here to help you.
It's time to start living a life of faith. No matter where things have been up until this point, you can begin a new beginning right now by making the decision to walk with God in obedience even when it relates to things you have not yet seen but things you are expecting because you know God is worth trusting and worth following. And if you will keep your focus on heaven while you are living your life on earth, you will see what God can do, even in your struggle, even in your pain, even in your uncertainty, to give you his powerful presence, moving you forward for the rest of your life, being able to look back and say, "I know what it is to live by faith and to have God reward me for it".