As a boy, I enjoyed spending my afternoons playing in the woods behind my family home. Those woods became the place where many battles and adventures were engaged in with my friends. There seemed to be no end to the fun that one’s imagination could create. For the most part that was true, except when I was unlucky to get tangled up in briars. Briars are nasty plants that stretch out there long tentacles, waiting for an unassuming boy to come by.
To become entangled in briars is an exercise in pain. No matter what you do, the result will be pain and destruction. Whether you pull away fast or slow, there will be pain. Briars will rip your clothes. And even if you get free, briars always leave behind thorns, which have painfully embedded themselves in your skin. Briars are not fun and they will hinder your wilderness experience.
The writer of Hebrews encourages his readers to avoid becoming entangled by sin as we live our lives for the Lord. He uses the picture of a race to describe the way we live our lives for Jesus. He writes:
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. (Hebrews 12:1-4 NKJV)
Sin, like briars, can hinder our race. Like briars, sin is both painful and destructive. The writer tells us to deal with the sin that so easily ensnares of entangles us. If we are going to live for Jesus, we have to deal with the sin our lives. Consider four points from the writer’s encouragement.
1. Be encouraged by the fact that others have finished the race.
We are good at making excuses. “That’s not possible, because of what I have done.” “I don’t measure up.” The writer tells us finish the race because others have run it before us. In fact, if you look at the list of those who ran before us (Hebrews 11), our excuses for giving up seem meaningless.
2. Even if you get entangled, don’t give up on the race.
The writer tells us to lay aside our sin and run with endurance. He is saying, “Pull yourself out of the briars.” Yes, it is going to hurt. But don’t give up. Never give up. You are in this for the long haul. Finish the race.
3. Jesus is our example.
Because we are in the race for the long haul, we need to keep our focus. You can only do that by looking to Jesus. That is what we remember at Easter. He died for us. He was buried. And on the third day, He arose. He conquered sin and death. The victory is ours. We need to claim it for ourselves. Look to Jesus. Finish the race.
4. If you are going to run the race, you have to get tough with yourself.
Finally, the writer tells his readers that they have not been serious about dealing with their sin. The phrase “to bloodshed” does not mean that I need to brutally punish myself. Rather it means I need to get tough with myself. Quit making the excuses! Quit being lazy! Don’t get comfortable with those “pet sins!” It is hindering my race. It is holding me back. It is time to get serious about the sin in my life. It is time to act. Finish the race.
Each of us knows where the briar patches are in our lives. It is time to deal with them. We should no longer allow them to hinder our lives. So be encouraged. Others have overcome. We will too, if we keep our eyes on Jesus.
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