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We can plough through this litany of sufferings

Hebrews 12:1-12:13
Key Verse: 12:2,3

KV: “…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured

the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God…” (2-3)

Have you ever wondered what heaven looks like? Let’s drop everything in our mind at this moment, and imagine that we are in heaven, okay. What would you say to the person next to you if you were in heaven? Would you say, “I am disappointed, from now on I cannot trust you because you weren’t there when I needed your help?” No, you would say, “Thank you for your kindness I feel so much better when you are here.” No unkind word is spoken in heaven, I was told. Heaven is a place where there is no misunderstanding between sisters and brothers because of the love of God. This is true. Our heart could be a piece of heaven because the love of God reigns in us. In today’s passage, the key word is encouragement when we must endure sufferings. This encouragement comes from the love of God. In a sports arena people watch their games to encourage the players who get tired or lose heart after a tough game. If Babe Ruth showed up in the NY Yankees’ game tonight, the whole crowd, abut fifty thousand, will rise from their seats to welcome this all time, Baseball Hall of Famer, Babe Ruth, and the players will be on fire. Similarly, missionary Sarah Barry is the source of encouragement in the UBF world today. In 2016, I went to Chicago to encourage her not to go to Korea to attend world mission report for her health reasons. But she went anyway. Later she told me that at her age she couldn’t do much, but by being there she wanted to encourage the missionaries from around the world who were giving their life in the frontline. We need encouragement to endure at school, at work, at home, and we need each other’s back to lean on in the church community. Who is the # uno encourager for us and why? Let’s find out together.

One girl called her mom and cried over the phone why she should work so hard in school. Her mom cheered her up by talking every day on the phone and by sending her small gifts through mail. Our life’s journey is comparable with a marathoner, it’s a challenging journey. We need encouragement every step of the way to go through hardships. So, we have crowds of loved ones cheering us when we face trials and difficulties. (1a) Yesterday afternoon, my wife and I went to visit one of our dear loved ones at MGH to cheer her up. During our conversation, she confessed that for the last 3 weeks her abdominal pain was unbearable so she called her daughter and told her that she gave up living. She would rather die than to endure such excruciating pain. Often, we become doubtful on life, and fall into disappointment. In such a situation, we must “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that easily entangles.” (1b) I want to suggest few things that we should throw off: fear, sorrow, disappointment, complain, frustration, stress, anger, and the like. We must take deliberate action to throw off such things. What kind of encouragement do we need when we are disappointed? In this verse, the word “persevere” is the best encouragement we can get. Sometimes, the idea of perseverance appears to be scary because we must endure unbearable hardship. In fact, “perseverance” is a beautiful word. Faithfulness is another word for perseverance. It comes from God’s faithfulness to love us still. (1c) If Faithfulness were a person, he is following us everywhere we go. Remember what John Bunyan said in his allegory. As he walked through the darkest valley brother Christian was lonely. But he heard brother Faithfulness was going ahead of him, and he was comforted. King David knew about the faithfulness of God’s love. At the end of the day, he said, “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” He said two things here: God’s faithful love will surround him all the days of my life in this life, after that what? I will live in the house of the Lord forever. It was a win, win deal for David. So, God encourages us to persevere, not on our own strength but in God who loved us enough to send Jesus to die on the cross for us. Let us keep going because God will see us through; we can plough through this litany of suffering hardships.

Look at 2. Here we are looking for a role model. We all need role models. Who is your role model? My role model is still the Korean pastor who adopted two communist soldiers who killed his two sons. He said, “They killed my sons, now I will have them in place of my sons.” It was a win, win deal for the pastor because he not only found the killer of his two sons, but more importantly they became his own sons. He lost nothing. In the heart of this story is the love of God. He could trust those who hated him. Here we see that we can trust each other in the community even though we know each other only for a while because we trust God’s love in the first place. How do we know that God loves us? The cross of Jesus is the evidence of God’s love for us. When we look at the cross of Jesus, we are convinced that he truly loves us so dearly. So, Jesus is the best model for love even better than the Korean pastor. First, Jesus fulfilled God’s promise to save us from guilt and Satan’s condemnation. Jesus took all our guilt and sorrow upon the cross. The death and burial of Jesus is straightforward evidence that our sins are forgiven and forgotten. No more sin reigns in our mortal body. “Therefore, now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (2a) Secondly, Jesus won the victory. There is a saying that as believers, we the church don’t fight for the victory, victory is given to us by Jesus’ resurrection. Rather, we fight in the victory, meaning we are winning every day. So, share your winning story today. Here we are talking about our daily battle in this life. Moreover, future is fully guaranteed. God initiated our salvation, and he fulfilled it on the cross. In other words, through Jesus’s death and resurrection, God secured our eternity. This is our living hope even when we struggle in this mundane world. This is what it would mean “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” The grammar in verse 2a is on-going. It requires conscious effort to stay focus on Jesus. Chances are for obvious reason, we lose focus, then what happen!

Our struggles itself is not the end, there is a clear goal and purpose. We must go through what we must in life. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Our hope is in the kingdom of God. Paul said, “If only for this we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” We are confident of this glorious hope before the throne of God. There is “joy” that is set before us. Jesus was encouraged by this joy of sitting at the right hand of God when he endured the cross. In the same way, the joy to be in his house by Jesus’ side should be source of our strength and encouragement. (2b) The joy to sit at Jesus’ feet before the throne of God should be the prime motive of our faith. Jesus knows we are tired and weary. So he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus invites us to carry the burden of life together with him not by our own strength. It gets a lot easier when we share our burden with someone we trust.

We have a model and as far as our disappointment is concerned, Jesus is our model because no one suffered more than he did. But in real life, we can also learn from others around us. This year’s Harvard graduation commencement speaker was Mark Zuckerberg. He dropped out of Harvard and founded Facebook. The risk and challenge was high at times. But the most difficult challenge to endure was opposition from his close associates in his company. On many occasions, they threatened to leave the company if he doesn’t follow their advice to sell Facebook to other companies to make more money. But he persevered for the sake of his Facebook followers. He decided not to let down his followers. When we want to do something, we may face opposition. We may say it is part of the game. In verse 3 “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners…” means, study how he did. We should never give up because of opposition against us. This is how Jesus did and we want to follow his example.

Look at 4-11. Why do you think discipline is encouragement of God’s love for us? First, we don’t like discipline because it hurts, so we tend to think God is punishing us. But discipline is God’s way of encouragement because he loves us. We should never take God’s discipline as punishment. The purpose of God’s discipline is for our good, in order that we may “share in his holiness.” (10b) God wants to have an intimate fellowship with us. We are wild at times, we cannot help but snap at our loved ones at home when we are depressed. Through discipline, God can make us pure, like himself so that we can see him. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Discipline is painful, but it produces a “harvest of righteousness and peace” in us. (11) We become weak after a tough time. (12) Look at 13. “Make level paths for our feet” tells us the importance of community. In the community, we love and serve one another so the weak (‘lame”) may not become disabled, but rather healed. (13)

In conclusion, I see that our community is going through a rough time this season. We are in it together. It is natural, we become weary and tired. But God’s faithful love surrounds us. We can plough through this rough road by holding on to his faithful love for us as a community. So, cheer up, church. He’s nearer than you think he is.

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