Sermon preached by guest Pastor Ken Pfitzner
at St Petri Lutheran Church, Nuriootpa,
Sunday, 30th September, 2012 [Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost]
Hebrews 11:13,39-12:2 [NIV/NRSV]
Well, the Sydney Swans ended up winning the premiership in this year’s AFL grand final! . . .
There have been some hard-fought matches in the preliminary finals – and as we know, the Crows didn’t quite make it . . . But all the teams were fired up with an intense drive to win!
It’s the same with any sports and competitions. But in order to finish as winners, every player has to keep their focus . . . and not get distracted. That’s why those playing various sports are often told:
‘Keep your eye on the ball!’
We know how crucial that is for ‘footie’ players and cricket batsmen, tennis players and golfers, and anyone who has to hit or kick or catch a ball. If they lose concentration and take their eye off the ball, it could cost them the game . . . or the premiership!
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews – from which I take the text for the message today – uses the illustration of a race that’s been marked out for us to spur us on to run towards our heavenly goal. And so that we end up as ‘winners’ and not ‘losers,’he urges us to ‘keep our eyes fixed on Jesus’! He doesn’t want us to lose out on what God has promised – so we’re to run towards the goal with our eyes ‘fixed on Jesus.’
The writer to the Hebrews encourages Christians to persevere in their struggles and to continue as followers of Jesus, by reminding them of many Old Testament identities who were great examples of faith in God’s promises. In chapter 11 of his letter he writes in verse 13, and then from verse 39 to chapter 12, verse 2:
13All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance . . .
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
12:1 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 sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
PRAYER: “Lord Jesus, by your Spirit’s power,
fix our eyes on you always,
so that we will come to eternal glory with you! Amen,”
The writer to the Hebrews urges us today, too, to ‘keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.’ We do this by living with faith in Him and not getting sidetracked. It’s to live with trust in His eternal promises, and to keep following Him as His disciples . . . with Him at the centre of our lives, what we plan and do and desire – walking the way of Jesus, the Servant-Lord.
The writer to the Hebrew Christians was concerned that many of them were giving up on their faith in God . . . and focussing elsewhere. They were being influenced by wrong teachings and legalism. With the many different pressures in society on them, they were losing confidence in the Gospel of Christ. Some were giving up on worship. Some wanted to live for themselves rather than for Jesus. Others were feeling tired and weary. And so came the urgent prompting:
‘Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus!’
I think we need this reminder, too – both in our personal lives and in our congregations. If we don’t keep our eyes on Jesus, we can easily lose perspective.
When we look at ourselves, or look at other people and their expectations or to other things around us, we can very easily be disappointed and discouraged . . . because we largely see weakness and failure.
When we look at our personal lives, we realise how weak we often are as Christians, how we don’t pray and believe like we should, how we struggle with doubts.
When we look at the church, we see the sinful weakness and failures of others . . . but that’s how it will always be because every Christian is still a sinful person.
Another thing that happens when we take our eyes off Jesus is that we lose sight of what God is doing – we forget it’s Jesus who works in us and through us! We forget that His Holy Spirit brings us to faith and transforms us in a powerful way through His Word and sacraments, to be His people in the world. We think the future is tied up with what we do, instead of what He does. And with all the turmoil in our world, and rapes and murders and killings, the political upheavals and financial woes, and so on, it’s also easy to forget God’s still at work in a powerful way in His world and in our lives.
And when we take our eyes off Jesus, we don’t see His plans for His Church on earth . . . or we forget our identity as His people – that we’re His chosen ones, called to reflect His grace in the world!
So when it comes to who we are, and our work as His Church in this world, we need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Our focus isn’t to be on what we want or our greatness, or our ambitions, but what He wants; not on ourselves and what we prefer but what serves His purposes. You see, His ultimate goal is to bring all people to the finishing line!
So for our encouragement now, the writer here reminds us of a long list of others who’ve struggled in the past – yet clung to God’s promises in faith. He reminds us of this large variety of people [which you can read about in the book of Hebrews] who all died without seeing the ultimate fulfilment of God’s promises . . . which, of course, we’re privileged to know in Christ.
But despite that, they still lived with trust in God’s promises.
They’re the ones who finished the race – and now they’re pictured as a crowd of faithful witnesses, cheering us on . . . they’re urging us to keep believing and trusting God’s incredible promises, to ‘hang in there’ with faith even when we can’t see or imagine what the final outcome will be! They’re like the spectators filling all the seats in the grandstand, cheering for us . . . so that when we reach the finishing line, they’ll join together with us to receive the eternal promises!
And so, as the writer reminds us of these former faithful witnesses, he encourages us to live with faith in God, too, and to serve Him faithfully, . . . as he says: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles
[ – to get rid of all the ‘baggage’ we’re carrying, that ruins our relationships . . . the ‘stuff’ of the past . . . or the hurts that affect our lives and health – to throw off all that, ]
. . . and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
And then he adds: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Keep looking at Jesus who reached the finish, who endured the cross – with all its shame and agony – to open the way to heaven for us. Keep looking to Jesus as the living Lord who’s conquered the powers of sin, death, and evil so you can live with Him in eternity. Keep looking to Jesus as your Saviour from sin and guilt, who loves you and forgives you . . . and is with you every day!
Jesus is the pioneer and perfecter of your faith, the author and finisher of your Christian life.
With your eyes fixed on Jesus, you can keep on being God’s joyful people . . . in the world and for the world! You can be God’s people who live ‘faithfully for Him and with faith in Him.’
So, ‘keep your eye on the ball! . . . ‘keep your eyes fixed on Jesus’! AMEN.