Finishing well

Hebrews 12:1-6 ESV

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

So first of all, let me start with this. Through all the book, the author of Hebrews, which is still claimed unknown at this point, reminded us to not taking our spiritual life lightly. He warned us over and over again that spiritual life is a fight / battle that we must not let our guard slip.

I will give some examples:

Therefore, we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it (Hebrew 2:1 ESV)

Take care brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God (Hebrews 3:12 ESV)

For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what is promised (Hebrews 10:36 ESV)

And then now, again, in the final parts of the book, the author again opened chapter 12 with same mood…

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us… (verse 1)

So, I will start today with this reminder: This life is a race. We are racing in this life, and not just simply coasting / cruising through life.

There are some implications to this that worth to keep in mind:

  1. Race means something is at stake. It’s either won / lost. And the Bible says: we are all in this race that is set before us. Sitting on the curb side is not an option. It’s either we are finishing this race well, or losing this race. This also ultimately means that there is a purpose. There is no race without a purpose. Athletes give their all to finish their race because there is something glorious waiting for them behind the finish line.
  2. Race means every second matters. Did you see the Olympics? There is no time wasted on a race. Therefore, we can see here why the author urged us to lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely… why? Because in a race, there are only two categories of things: ones that support you to winning the race OR ones that hinder you from winning the race. There is nothing in between. Keep this in mind. These weights & sins are not necessarily always bad things, but more often, it comes as good things that entangles us & distracts us.
  3. Lastly, Race also means that success is not in starting well or just doing well, but in finishing well.

Now, this is the mindset that the author wants us to have to start with.

Then, today, we will see how the author of Hebrews gave us the key in finishing this race well. And it’s very startling that the key is not found in trying harder, or strengthen your legs in the gym more, or work out more, but in LOOKING. The author gave us three things to look at as the keys to finish the race well. I will borrow John Piper’s words on this passage, these are the 3 keys, according to what we can learn through this passage:

  1. Looking back to witnesses
  2. Looking up to Jesus
  3. Looking forward to joy

I. Looking back to witnesses (v1. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses…”)

Whenever we hear the word “therefore”, we will straight away realize that there is a strong connection between the lines that we are reading with the ones before / preceeding that. So, in this case, it is necessary to ask “what did the author Hebrews talk about before chapter 12?”

Well, Hebrew 11 talked about what we famously call “the hall of faith”. In this previous chapter, the author went at length, to take us through a tour of the Old Testament, to revisit the stories of some of the Bible’s heroes of faith. These are the people that Hebrews 12 refer to as “witnesses”. But what exactly do they witness about?

Over the years, what I’ve heard from my Sunday school teacher (sorry, of course, I don’t mean offense to all Sunday school teachers out there), accumulating with what I’ve heard from preachers from pulpit, books that I read, and so on… I thought that Hebrews 11 is a book that showcased the strong faith of these warrior prince & princess of God. It is as if, Hebrews 12:1 is Moses, Abraham, David, and so on, testifying to us how they had great faith, and thus why they could finish their race well. It seems like they are now  saying to us: “If we can finish the race, then you can do it too! Be like us, and win like us!”

But then, along the way, as I read the Bible more and more, I was like “Hang on, wait a second… these people are actually no better than us!”

When I look at David and realized that he’s a worshipper but also a murderer, backstabber, and adulterer, honestly, I’m gonna think twice before I tell my son: “Go and be like David”

When I look at Jacob, I realized that he lied more than he’s telling the truths.

When I look at Abraham, I realized that he’s no less a manipulator and cheater than I am.

When I look at Moses, I realized that this guy is a hot-tempered man just as I am.

Then I look at Samson, Noah, Gideon, the list goes on, and I become more and more aware that these people are no heroes at all. They are just ordinary people like me, full of failures and messed up here and there.

So, I began to question: “How come they won the race? What made them finish the race well?”

Here’s when I finally realized that Hebrews 11 is not mainly about David, Abraham, Moses, and all these people. The goal of Hebrews 11 is not to draw our eyes to these people that we’d call the heroes of the Old Testament. No, that’s the not the goal! That’s not what Hebrews 11 is all about!

I finally realized that Hebrews 11 is mainly about ONE person… one person that had been at the centre of everything that has happened. One person that made everything works. One person that pulled everything together. One person that has been the main storyline, and that all other stories are just back stories that are pointing to him.

Now, I finally realized, what are these people in Hebrews 11 witnessing to us in Hebrew 12:1 that we just read… They are witnessing to us to look unto this person: Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (v.2)

Now I finally realized, what David, Moses, Abraham, and all the other guys are saying to us now. It’s not “Run, you can do it. Be like us and finish the race”, but they are saying: “Run, finish the race, you can do it. Because Christ is enough

It’s as if David saying to us: “I’ve never thought I’d make it too. I failed and I screwed up. But Christ pulled me through. Don’t look at ourselves, but look to Christ the author and perfecter of our faith!”

Or Abraham: “If it was up to me then I’d surely fail. I doubted, I tried my own way, and I messed up. But God kept His promise. He was faithful when I was not! Don’t look at yourself. Look to Christ the author and perfecter of our faith. It’s all about Him! He will sustain us and make sure everything will pull together in the end, because it’s been about Him all along!”

As if they are all in one accord with Paul when he said: “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:6)

II. Look up to Jesus

This is why, secondly, the key is to fix our eyes on Jesus.

First, we need witnesses. We need Godly people around us to keep encouraging and reminding us to not lose our sight on Jesus. This is what all these people in Old Testament witnessing to us. They are all pointing us to Christ and His perfect work. But also, in our current daily lives, This is the goal of Christian community: to keep reminding each other about Christ.

As we tend to drift and go sideways in this life, we need other people to help ourselves stay centered.

All Christian communal experiences must end with this goal: to keep Christ centered in our lives. Yes there is fellowship in community. Yes, there is caring and giving and all other loving activities in the community. But the ultimate goal must be to keep Christ centered through the preaching and practices of the Gospel.

When Christ / the gospel is missing from the community, then, there will be no growth in faith. Yes, there might be all the hypes and “fires”. But what makes faith grow and strong in the season of hardships is the gospel / the word of Christ.

Romans 10:17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ

And this must be the main agenda in our community. To preach Christ to each other. To witness that Christ is enough to each other. To remind each other that Christ is our only hope and stay. It is good to remind ourselves about this, especially going together through this unique and challenging season as a church 🙂

Let’s tell our friend next to us: “Look to Jesus. He is more than enough. He will pull us through. Look to Jesus, do not lose sight of Him. Nothing else can satisfy. Look to Jesus” 🙂

So, this is our second key: LOOK TO JESUS

This is the key of the keys in winning the race. This is the key to enable us to lay aside our weights and sins that entangles us and hinders us from winning the race.

This is the answer to the six million dollar question on “how can someone finish well in life?”

The author of Hebrews did not say: “Lay aside all the weights and sin… run with endurance…. Pray harder, give more, fast more, go to bible classes more… etc” no, the key of winning the race is not in how fast we run / what we do …. The key of winning the race is in where we fix our sight on

The power of our faith does not lie doing or working, but in looking.

If I can put in other words, the secret recipe to transform our lives / breaking our bad habits / growing our faith / winning our battles with porn / finishing our race well does not lie in how hard you try, but on what you see.

Our lives are transformed to the degree of how much our heart is captivated as we are looking more and more into the beauty of Christ and His work through the Gospel

As we are more and more amazed by the beauty of Christ, we will gradually sin less and less. Our hearts will gradually detach itself from its idols. Our appetite to the world will slowly dim, just like what the old hymn sings:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full, in his wonderful face

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of his glory and grace

This is why, whenever someone come to consult about spiritual dryness or ministry problems or even struggles with sins / addictions, I always remind them that the main key is not to try harder, but to look to Jesus more. Trying harder without looking at Jesus will just make you end up struggling with more idols and addictions. So at the end of the day, you will just end up with more weights and sins in your race.

(Note, as we’ve discussed in the beginning, that the weights & sins, that verse 1 refers to, often come as “good things” which then become idols that entangles us and hinders from finishing the race).

For example: If someone is struggling with porn addictions. And I give him a pastoral advice to make himself busier with ministry to distract him for his tempting thoughts. What I’m actually doing is just giving him over from idol of sex to idol of ministry. From serving Sex as his pleasure master, to serving fervently in the church as now probably his source of acceptance and fulfillments. Bad news is he could just be falling into a worse master 🙁

Remember: This might be shocking to you, but doing more religious activities with wrong motives might just be as, or even more, dangerous than living a licentious lives.

So, this is why it is very important. Look to Jesus. This is the key of all keys in winning the race.

III. Looking forward to JOY

“…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

One of my favorite contemporary worship songs is “What a beautiful name”, such a beautifully written song, right? And the line that always gets me to tears is the first line on the second verse:

You didn’t want heaven without us

So Jesus, You brought heaven down

The most beautiful part of this is not because we were so great that Jesus could not have heaven withous us, but exactly on the opposite, he didn’t have to at all. He could have had everything without us! But yet, He wanted us. Someone us, these broken creatures who rebelled against Him, He chose to be part of His joy. Who are we? That He could ever be mindful of us?

This is one of the depth and breadth of the gospel that is still really hard for me to fathom.

Yet, this is what the Author of Hebrews, again, emphasized here: That the cross is not a plan B or God’s contingency plan. Jesus did not take the cross under duress. Men did not murder Him. But it was for JOY that Christ endured the cross and despised all the same.

So that now, we can also endure our race looking forward for JOY. The great joy that one day, we can be fully redeemed from our brokenness and be fully immersed in the height, depth, and breadth of His love in His presence.

To close our sermon for today, let me close with verse 4-6.

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

One line especially stood out for me from verse 4 :

“In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

This is a very important line, that for me personally, has such a depth of a meaning that show the wonder & beauty of the Gospel.

In general, this line means that our struggle is nothing compares to what Jesus has endured at the Cross for us. Often times, the author of New Testament’s epistles can seem to underestimate the struggles that we are facing. I will give two examples:

  1. Paul – 2 Cor 4:16-17 “16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” And you might scream: “What the heck do you mean by light and momentary, Paul? You have no idea what I’m going through!”
  2. James – James 1:2-4 “2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Oh come on! What do u mean by joy, brother James ??!


From the outset, it may seem to us that the Bible underestimate or fail to understand / relate to the painful trials or process that we have to endure through the reality of lives. But is that so? Of course not.

We have to understand the concept of disciplines. If you’re parents like me, I’m sure you’d understand what I mean here. What the Bible is trying to tells us is this (two things):

  1. If it’s not because of God’s grace, we’d suffer something much much much worse. What is that? Death and eternal damnation because of our sins.
  1. If it’s not because of our Father’s disciplines, we will suffer something much much much worse than our current pain in the hand of our Father’s disciplining hands.

Do you remember when Jesus shed blood because of our sins? I don’t mean the blood that is caused by physical damages due to all the tortures of the Roman soldiers. No, that pain is nothing to the real pain that He endured for us. The real pain that Jesus endured on the cross is not physical pain, but the pain caused by His separation from His Father because of our sins. The pain of Him enduring the judgement of God’s wrath upon Him, having His Father looking away from Him. This is the real blood-shed, in Gethsemane.

Luke 22:44 (AMP) said “And being in agony [deeply distressed and anguished; almost to the point of death], He prayed more intently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down on the ground.”

What caused this agony and distress? Not physical tortures. Not physical blood and bruises. But God’s wrath upon Him because of all our sins and curses.

Jesus endured all that and shed that blood, so that in our current struggles, we did not have to!

Now it means so much to us when we read verse 5 : “And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son?”

Wow, what an encouragement! I cannot find any better one!

We can face any struggles with joy because we know that all the struggles or trials or processes that we have to endure is our Father loving hands working something good in our lives to discipline us and trains us to prepare us to receive the fullness of His glorious promises.

Let me close with this illustration:

I am a father of two. I have a beautiful 6-year old daughter, Jasmine, and a wonderful 6-months boy, Jordan. One of the things that is more terrifying than covid-19 for me is my baby girl who’s growing up really fast!

There are times when I’m just puzzled of how Jasmine is becoming more and more like an adult! And one of the hardest things for me as a parent is when I need to discipline her. I’m sure any parent here can relate to me.

It’s not an easy thing to discipline our children. It breaks our hearts every time when we inflicts painful disciplines to them and we see them crying or even shout: “Daddy jahat”

But a good father must do what a good father ought to do: to discipline and train up our child with ways that might not be too comfortable for them. Why? Because there is a greater joy for us to see that our child may grow up and become what they’re meant to be.

This is the only motivation any good parent has in their heart when they discipline their children: To make sure their children grow up to be the best version they can possibly be. Or even sometimes, we must make them cry to save them from somethings that might destroy their lives, right? Now, so it is with our Heavenly Father.

Therefore we can say what Spurgeon once said:

‘God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.’ Charles Spurgeon

Today, you may be facing painful / difficult struggles that you don’t even understand. And you may ask: “God, what are you doing? Why you let me go through all this?” Would you trust His heart today? Would you look to Jesus and what He has done and be assured that He is working all things together for our good?

Instead of asking why, may we be asking what more? What is it that God is correcting in our hearts? What idols is God exposing through this struggle? What crooked ways that God is straightening up through this unique season? And believing that He is the author and perfecter of our faith. He will carry us through. What He started, He will bring in to completion in us.

Amen, let this be our prayer today. Let’s pray.

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