Finishing Well

Scripture: Hebrews 12.1b-2
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 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 the throne of God.

Reflection: Finishing Well
By Jon Polk

In 1968, John Stephen Akhwari, a long-distance runner, was one of four athletes sent from the East African nation of Tanzania to the Olympic Games in Mexico City.

Unaccustomed to the high altitude, Akhwari began to cramp up during the marathon event. He was also involved in a collision with other runners and dislocated his right knee. Encouraged to drop out, he instead received medical treatment and continued on with the race.

Over an hour after the winning time, Akhwari finally entered the stadium, where only a handful of spectators remained. Struggling to put one foot in front of the other, he limped across the finish line, coming in dead last among the 57 who completed the race (18 others had quit along the way).

When interviewed afterwards, Akhwari was asked why he persevered through such a painful experience. He replied, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race. They sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”

Athletic imagery is a common New Testament analogy for the Christian life. For a faith focused on the ideals of selflessness and sacrifice, it seems odd that biblical writers draw parallels with sports events focused on individual winners. A closer look at a few of these passages, however, reveals that there is more at stake in our spiritual life than winning.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul emphasizes an athlete’s need for training and rigorous discipline. In Philippians 3, Paul talks about pressing on, or persevering, toward the goal. Reflecting back on his own life in 2 Timothy 4, Paul does not mention winning, but states that he is one of many who has finished the race.

The author of Hebrews also discusses training through strengthening of arms and knees, stresses running the race with perseverance, and encourages us to follow the example of Jesus who finished the task God set before him and now sits at God’s right hand, the ultimate finish line.

Our spiritual goal is not to win (as if we could somehow “win” the Christian life), but to finish the race set before us and to finish well because we’ve trained properly and persevered through difficulties and trials.

To do this, we must keep our eyes on the example of Jesus, who ran the race before us and endured great suffering on our behalf so that we might follow him on a lifelong journey of putting one foot in front of the other along the path of faith.

I want to thank Jon Polk for this wonderful step by step, two week, race through Hebrews he has taken us on. Hebrews is dense and each chapter could be a marathon of study. Solus Christus; Fully Human, Fully Saved; A Cautionary Tale of Unbelief; A High Priest Like No Other; No Spiritual Fast Food; New And Improved; Divine Will And Testament; Compelled Toward Community; Faith of the Flawed; and now the aptly named, Finishing Well, have been a joy for me to read and to bring to you.

There will be more where that came from. For now, we prepare for Thanksgiving week by closing with the prayer from Hebrews 13: Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

The Call to Prayer
Come now and see the works of God, how wonderful he is in his doings toward all people. — Psalm 66.4

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 9-10 (Listen – 7:48)
Hebrews 12 (Listen – 4:36)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Chronicles 11-12 (Listen – 11:59) Hebrews 13 (Listen – 3:31)
1 Chronicles 13-14 (Listen – 4:13) James 1 (Listen – 3:26)

Faith of the Flawed

Scripture: Hebrews 11.1-2
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

Reflection: Faith of the Flawed
By Jon Polk

Hebrews chapter eleven has often been affectionately and appropriately called, “The Hall of Faith.” Reading through this chapter, one can imagine a room full of biblical heroes each presenting their story much like Disney World’s Hall of Presidents exhibit. The roll call sounded here truly is a “great cloud of witnesses.”

These characters and their faith have served to inspire believers for generations. In fact, the purpose of this passage is to demonstrate how ordinary people overcame difficult situations through their faith in God.

For some, though, inspiration can turn to intimidation and the thought of living up to the faith of these “spiritual giants” can seem a daunting task.

However, there are only a few names on this list—Abel, Enoch, Joseph and Samuel—about whom the Bible records little, if anything, negative. For each of the rest, we have a record of some character flaw or significant sin in their life.

  • Noah, after the flood, once became so drunk that he exposed himself to his sons and then cursed some of their descendants.
  • Abraham not only disbelieved God’s promise of children but also doubted God’s protection—fearing for his life, he lied about his wife being his sister. Not once, but twice.
  • Sarah, like her husband Abraham, did not believe God’s promise that she would become a mother, and she even laughed at God.
  • Isaac followed in his father Abraham’s footsteps and also lied about his wife being his sister.
  • Jacob, jealous of his brother Esau, deceived their father in order to receive the family blessing.
  • Moses murdered an Egyptian. He also later disobeyed God’s instruction regarding water from a rock for the people and even took credit for the miracle himself.
  • Rahab was a prostitute.
  • Samson was greedy, selfish, and had serious issues with women.
  • David gave in to his lust, abused his authority as king, committed adultery and murder, and was guilty of trying to cover up the whole incident.

These are the ones lauded for their outstanding faith. There are even others, but we do not have the time or space to recount all the shortcomings of these very human and flawed “heroes” of faith.

These women and men found their place in God’s story not because they were flawless and perfect examples of obedience. They didn’t always follow the right path and make the best choices. But to the best of their ability in the midst of their circumstances, they acted in faith. They are applauded for their faith, because without it, we cannot please God.

The Request for Presence
I call with my whole heart; answer me, O Lord, that I may keep your statutes. — Psalm 119.145

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 7-8 (Listen – 9:04)
Hebrews 11 (Listen – 6:22)

Compelled Toward Community

Scripture: Hebrews 10.24-25
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Reflection: Compelled Toward Community
By Jon Polk

We have been made participants in a New Covenant of grace with God and we are beneficiaries of Christ’s inheritance of forgiveness. Along with these great gifts of love comes a great responsibility for us as God’s people.

God has forged with us and in us a new community of faith. Belonging to this community carries a responsibility to be accountable to each other.

Therefore, let us draw near to God. We have a High Priest in Jesus who has provided us with direct access to God. We have entered into a relationship with God through the death of his Son and we can enter God’s presence confidently. Our response should be to take advantage of this privilege through personal study and devotion and through public worship together.

Let us hold to the hope we profess. We have the promise from Jesus of assurance in faith and assistance in our time of need. We must lean forward into the future of our life in Christ and resist the temptation to lean back into our old lives of hopelessness.

Let us spur one another on toward love and good deeds. We have been given the gift of Christian community for our encouragement and edification. The Christian faith is not merely a personal, individual, internal exercise. It can only be truly lived in community. Even the concept of fellowship is more than simply socializing when we come together at church. True fellowship occurs when we encourage and build up our fellow believers.

Let us not give up meeting together. We have been given the gift of Christian community also as a place for service and ministry. In our consumer-driven culture, we often hear church seekers ask the question, “How will this church meet my needs?” Instead, our driving question should be, “How am I gifted to serve and meet the needs of my church?”

We are called to pursue a life of spiritual maturity and we are reminded that human infants in a physical sense require several things to grow and be healthy: nourishment, exercise and assistance. We receive our spiritual nourishment from God’s Word and exercise from service, but we cannot forget that we require assistance from one another to grow in Christ.

Let us not neglect our responsibility to love, care for, and encourage one another in the body of Christ called the Church.

The Refrain
Send forth your strength, O God; establish, O God, what you have wrought for us. — Psalm 68.28

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 5-6 (Listen – 12:23)
Hebrews 10 (Listen – 5:33)

Divine Will and Testament

Scripture: Hebrews 9.15
For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

Reflection: Divine Will and Testament
By Jon Polk

Our High Priest Jesus has mediated for us a New Covenant with God, the terms of which read more like wedding vows than legal terms. In a similar way, the gospel message, the announcement of the good news found in Christ, sounds a lot like a last will and testament.

A covenant is a behavioral agreement between two parties describing certain actions that one or both parties will take toward the other. A testament, however, is stated by one party regarding the disposition of personal property, i.e. an inheritance. The conditions of a last will and testament only take effect upon the person’s death.

The Old Covenant required sacrifices and had regulations for worship and an earthly tabernacle. But the sacrifices and gifts offered by the people of Israel were merely matters of eating, drinking and ceremonial cleansing and were ultimately unable to cleanse the conscience of the people.

As our High Priest, Jesus entered a heavenly tabernacle and offered himself as an unblemished and perfect sacrifice for our sins.

Upon his death, the conditions of Jesus’ last will and testament come into effect. When a person dies, he or she must trust the legal system to insure their will is executed as they intended. For Jesus, however, he has returned to life to personally guarantee that we receive the entirety of his inheritance.

 

The Last Will and Testament of Jesus Christ

I, Jesus Christ, of the city of Nazareth, declare this to be my Will, and I revoke any and all wills and covenants previously made.

I hereby give my grace, love, mercy and forgiveness to all of humanity, past, present, and future. I leave behind for my heirs the promise of eternal redemption. I give them clean consciences for the purpose of serving the living God.

Upon their acceptance of these gifts, freely given, they will also receive a portion of my eternal estate and a place reserved for them in my home in heaven. This inheritance is priceless and is pure, undefiled, and will never decay or fade away.

I declare that this Will for my brothers and sisters has been proclaimed by our Father to be “good and acceptable and perfect.

The Prayer Appointed for the Week
O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, I may purify myself as he is pure…

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 3-4 (Listen – 8:52)
Hebrews 9 (Listen – 4:40)

New And Improved

Scripture: Hebrews 8.6
But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.

Reflection: New And Improved
By Jon Polk

The Old Covenant, the Law delivered through Moses, was a covenant of works, a legal contract. Do these things. Observe this rule. Act this way. Don’t act that way. It was full of ritual, hard to understand, and even harder to keep.

There’s the problem. And it is a problem. In fact, if there wasn’t a problem with the Old Covenant, then there would have been no need for a new one.

The people of Israel did not and could not keep the Old Covenant. Because they did not remain faithful to the covenant, God turned away from them. The Old Covenant served to highlight the unfortunate truth that no one is righteous, not even one.

Except for Jesus, the only righteous one. The Son of God, our great High Priest, has mediated for us a New Covenant, a better covenant, with God. This New Covenant is a covenant of grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

The content of the New Covenant, quoted from Jeremiah 31, reads more like marriage vows than a legal document.

Do you, God, promise to put your laws in the people’s minds? I will.

Do you, God, promise to write your laws on their hearts? I will.

Do you, God, promise to be the God of your people? I will.

Do you, God, promise that your people will be yours? I will.

Where God once wrote his laws to his people on stone, God will now write a new law in his people, in minds and hearts of flesh. This law written in us stirs us to obedience because it is inscribed on the deepest parts of our being: our mind where we reason, remember and reflect and our heart where we love, hope and give thanks. This is the soil in which God’s new law of grace and forgiveness takes root.

Where God had once turned away from his people because they were unfaithful, God now promises that he will be their God and they will be his people once again. This New Covenant is not dependent on our faithfulness, but rather on God’s faithfulness.

The New Covenant has made the old one obsolete. In his classic commentary, Matthew Henry declares, “It is antiquated, canceled, out of date, of no more use in gospel times than candles are when the sun has risen.”

Sisters and brothers, thanks be to God that we have this New Covenant because the Son has indeed risen.

The Call to Prayer
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. — Isaiah 1.18

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 1-2 (Listen – 11:18)
Hebrews 8 (Listen – 2:22)

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