Stripping for the Race
February 21st, 1960 @ 7:30 PM
STRIPPING FOR THE RACE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-21-60 7:30 p.m.
And the text:
Wherefore, therefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus…
That is one of the most dramatic pictures, similes, metaphors to be found in the whole Word of God. One of the noticeable characteristics, phenomena of the Roman Empire, of the Greek culture was to be found in any center of great influence and population. There you would find a gigantic hippodrome or a great amphitheater—not just the Coliseum in Rome; they were to be found everywhere. They were in Judea. They were in every province. They were in every great city. And one of the commonest sites in the Greco-Roman world was that vast tier upon tier upon tier, the clouds of people, and in the vast arena below, the chariot race in the hippodrome or the many different things to be seen of a spectacular nature in the vast amphitheaters.
This author who wrote this had seen that site many, many times, and the people to whom he addressed his letter had also been spectators in those great clouds of witnesses, looking down upon those Olympics or upon those other contests. It was a colorful spectacle, and just to mention it is to be filled with the thrill and the life of those races, running toward a great fame and a great prize. So that’s his illustration. All of those heroes of faith are likened unto those clouds and those tiers of witnesses: these who have followed in the way of the Lord through the years and the centuries that are past.
In the Egyptian campaign of Napoleon Bonaparte, he made a gesture toward those hoary emblems of the ancient days gone by and said, “Soldiers, forty centuries are looking down upon you today.”
There is in Dresden a world-famous picture, the Madonna de San Cristo. It is the picture of the Christ Child in the arms of the mother, and there were clouds beyond that nobody paid any attention to until, upon a time, somebody took away the accumulated dust of the centuries, and behold, the clouds were clouds of faces, angel faces looking down upon that holy scene.
So he says here: “Therefore”—after having named these heroes of the faith in the days and generations past—“therefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run the race that is set before us” [Hebrews 12:1].
One thing you’ll find always in the life of these early Christians, and that is the sobriety and the seriousness and the earnestness by which they face their assignments in life. For example, this word here: “and let us run the agōna,” translated “race,” the agona, our English word “agony.” Let us run this agony, this race. Just to say the word is to see those men placing in that contest all of the vigor of their physical frame and life. Running a race—the agony, the course that is set before us. Sometimes they would liken the Christian life to a battle, sometimes to a fight, sometimes to a race, but always that picture of striving.
Paul, when he came to the end of his way, said, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my race, my course, I have kept the faith” [2 Timothy 4:7]. “Let us”—he puts himself in it—“Let us run the race that is set before us” [Hebrews 12:1]. All of us in it. Not a place to sit down on, but a place to run on. Let us run the race for God! How many of us are very eager and willing to enlist in the race for wealth, or for popularity, or for social appeal, or for politics, or for many other things in life that call us to run?
But how slow and dilatory and phlegmatic are we in running the race for God. “Let us run the race that is set before us.” Not run any how or any way. There is a chosen destiny for you! There is a path for you every day! There is a calling of God for you and your life! There is a set purpose that God hath placed in front of you. Let us run the race that is set before us, stripping for it: “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us” [Hebrews 12:1]. Isn’t that a remarkable thing? Let us”—he puts himself in it—“let us run unweighted, free, unencumbered, like the wind after the purpose of God.”
These old records that you can read for yourselves tell us that in those races in the Hippodrome and in the amphitheater, in those great Olympics, in a thousand other places in the empire, those old records would say that the runners were trained with weights on their feet. And when the time came for the race, those weights were taken off, and the runners felt as free as the wind. He says here: “Let us lay aside all of these weights, and let us run unencumbered and unweighted” [Hebrews 12:1].
No man can win weighted down. I one time read of a trapper, of a hunter, who was out and saw an eagle flying low, and, attempting to rise, would come back down low again. And the hunter, watching the eagle closely, saw that he had a trap on his foot; and he couldn’t rise and he couldn’t soar, for he was weighted down.
God says His people are to run unencumbered, unweighted! I wonder what that means? There are many translators, for example, who would call that weight “handicap.” Let us lay aside every handicap. A lot of things crowd into your mind when you think about a handicap in life, in the race for God. And most of the times, we think in terms of some physical disability. It is a handicap. We say to be blind, blind like a John Milton, or to be deaf, deaf like a Beethoven, or to be invalid, invalid like John Keats, or to be consumptive, tubercular, like Robert Louis Stevenson, or to have a thorn in the flesh like the apostle Paul [2 Corinthians 12:7], those aren’t handicaps, really; those are not weights, really—not actually. What those things do for men is they develop in them unseen and unknown powers! It is like these lights that don’t shine very well tonight. You know why that light shines? Because of the difficulty of the resistance of the current through the filament, and it glows because of the trial and the difficulty.
That’s the way with a life. That shows you the effectiveness of your preacher. I sent Dean Willis to have the lights turned on, and he came back and said, “It can’t be done.” But it can be done. Just get the preacher preaching it, and the thing will glow, light up. That’s what makes it light, is the resistance in the filament, and it burns and it shines because of the handicap. So it is with a man’s life. So it is with any man’s life: the handicaps we experience—all of these physical disabilities, poverty, and trouble, and heartaches, and disappointment—these are not handicaps.
Well, then, what are the weights that can so easily beset us and clothe us round about? Those handicaps and those weights are of the spirit. They are of the heart, and they are of the soul. No man can run for God, weighted down with a thousand things that destroy a man’s spirit and eat out his heart and his soul: grievance and grudge, carrying in your heart the remembrance of hurt from other people, anger and greed, pride, fault. Pilgrim lost his pride in the Valley of Humiliation. There in the hurt of his soul, there did he get rid of his pride. There did he find his weakness before God.
These things of the spirit are things that weight us down and destroy us. Let me ask you and see if you judge for yourself. Jesus told the story about two boys [Luke 15:11-32]; one of them was prodigal, and what prodigality. When he came back, he confessed that he riotously ruined his life with harlotry and with evil and iniquity, with drunkenness and sin. But the other elder son, the other boy, he proudly said to his father, “At no time did I ever transgress thy commandment.” There he had been walking in the way of rectitude. There he had been obeying all of the commandments. There he had been living just as righteously as anybody could. But you despise him! Why? Because the younger boy, though having gone prodigal, yet in his spirit was humble and right before God. But the elder son was contumacious, and Pharisaical, and proud, and censorious, and critical, and condemnatory, and you hate him! You despise him.
These things that weight us down are things of the heart and of the spirit. They are not worth carrying. Get rid of them. They slacken our pace and they retard our stride. Lay aside every weight: get rid of it! Pray, call upon the name of God until you’re free from it! “Laying aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us” [Hebrews 12:1]. You know the Greek language is a picturesque language, and many times it will have a picture in a word, and here’s one. “And the sin which doth so easily beset us,” you have it translated, euperistaton, euperi—you know what peri, perimeter, peripheral, peri means: “around,” euperistaton. And the idea in the picture is—some of these translators translate it—“and the sin which doth so closely cling around us.” The idea of the author is that when a man is in the race and he is running, he couldn’t wear the clothes that they wore in that day, those long flowing togas. And as they surrounded him, they would get entangled and surround his feet, and he couldn’t run. His imagery here is to fling it away. Throw it away! “And the sin that doth so closely surround us gets in our way: throw away that toga, strip for the race and run for God!”
“The sin which doth so easily beset us” [Hebrews 12:1]. You can’t run in the race submerged and soaked in the evil of the world. You can’t wear sin and win heaven. Take it off as the garment and fling it away to run for God. How true is that for most of us, if not all of us! We are bound down with the world, enmeshed in the world, clothed with a thousand compromises and inconsistencies. “Get rid of it,” he says. “Strip for the race. Lay aside every weight and that sin that gets entangled in your feet when you want to be free to run.”
“Let us run the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus” [Hebrews 12:1-2]. And there is another one of those picturesque words. The Greek word has a preposition in it. Aphorontes, the participial from for the Greek word aphoraō. Horaō, means “to see,” horaō. Aphora; apo is away from. So he put the word together, “Looking away from” eis Iēsoun: looking away from, unto Jesus! That’s a very meaningful thing as he is using the word here: looking away unto Jesus [Hebrews 12:2], looking away from yourself. You, when you are running, don’t watch yourself. Keep your eye on the goal, looking away from yourself. All of your faults, and your failures, and your past derelictions of deviations and shortcomings and disappointments and faults, forget them! “Forgetting those things which are past . . . I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling . . . in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 3:13-14]. Looking away from yourself, looking unto Jesus.
Looking away from your own excellencies, there is nothing in us to commend us to God—our righteousnesses are as filthy rags [Isaiah 64:6]—looking away from us, not having any pleasure in any wonderful or so-called supposed excellent thing we are able to offer unto God: “Looking unto Jesus” [Hebrews 12:2]; looking unto Him, looking away from other people. Don’t pattern your life and make your decisions on somebody else.
I do not know of a commoner thing in the ministry of the Lord than this, you know: “I’m not going to be a Christian, I’m not going to join the church, I’m not going to be saved, I’m not going to repent of my sin, I’m not going to heaven, because look at that old hypocrite over there, and look at that churchman and all of those people. I’m better than they are. I’m not going to be saved, and I’m not going to give my heart to Jesus, and I’m not going to be baptized, and I’m not going to join the church because of all of those hypocrites that I see all around me.”
Well, wouldn’t that beat you? Wouldn’t that beat you? Just as though you, and I, and he, and all of us were on the way to a celestial city. And we’re on the road. I’m on the road, and you’re on the road, and everybody is on the road, and he’s on the road. And on that road to the celestial city of God, there is a fellow in an old broken-down Model T and he’s down. His tires are flat, and his water is boiling out, and he’s run out of gasoline, and he’s run out of oil, and his motor is all stuck up, and the pistons are all sticking out beside the engine. And there he is all bottled up, and so you say: “Now, look at that guy! Look at that guy. Look at him. Look at him, broken down. His tires are flat. Gasoline is gone. Oil drained out and water boiling away. Look at that guy. Therefore, I am not going to the celestial city of God! I am going to quit. I am going to quit. Look at him all broken down.” That is just as much sense and as much reason as for a man to say, “See that old hypocrite there? And see that old broken-down sinner over there, I’m not going to heaven on account of that bad old hypocrite or that old broken-down sinner over there.” That’s just about as much sense. Man, run, strive, act, look to Jesus! [Hebrews 12:2]. Don’t worry about that fellow there; God will take care of him. Chances are he’s just about as good as you are. Chances are you’re just about as much of a big hypocrite as he is. If you ever got right with God, you will feel that in your soul. All of us are pretty much alike. Looking unto Jesus! Not to somebody else, and not to yourself; looking unto Him.
May I say just one or two or three things in this moment? May I say what it is to look unto Jesus? “Let us run the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus” [Hebrews 12:1-2], looking unto Him, unto Him alone, our only all-sufficient Savior and Redeemer, just looking unto Him. Don’t need anything else. All that I need for the healing of my soul and the cleansing of my life and the forgiveness of my sin, all of it I can find in Him. I don’t need to add anything to His perfect sacrifice [1 Peter 1:19]. I don’t need to look to any ordinances [Matthew 26:26-28, 28:19-20]. I don’t need to look to anything else. I just look to Jesus and that’s enough: all-sufficient in Him. I don’t need anything in my hands to barter with God. Just look unto Him [Numbers 21:8-9; John 3:14-18]. Don’t need anything else; He is enough! His sacrifice is all-sufficient [1 Peter 1:19]. His blood is able to wash us clean and white [Revelation 1:5]. He has the power to present us to God without spot and without blemish [Ephesians 5:27]. I don’t need to come and offer anything in my hands; “In my hands no thing I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling” [“Rock of Ages”; Augustus M. Toplady]. Looking unto Jesus [Hebrews 12:2], our sacrifice, our all adequate and all-sufficient Savior, and looking unto Jesus, running this race, looking unto Jesus, He is our comforter and our keeper. I will not fear what man can do unto me, nor shall I fear what hell or the devil or the angels can do unto me; looking unto Jesus. When you are discouraged, when you think you are defeated, when the whole world is turned black and raw, lift up your face. There He stands, all-adequate, almighty and all-sufficient.
This week I read of a traveler who said in a certain gallery, he saw a wonderful painting. There was a woman bowing her head in sorrow and in tears, and above her were three angels. And this traveler said, “When I looked upon the picture, I wanted to say to that poor, sorrowing woman: ‘Lift up your face. Look up.’ And if she had, she would have seen the angels.” That’s the way it is with us. God is there, and at His right hand is the Lord Jesus Himself [Romans 8:34], and we don’t need to be afraid or discouraged or despondent or blue. There He is, our able and mighty keeper and comforter and Savior. When we let the windows of our souls get covered with grime, we say the sun isn’t shining. Just clean up the window, and there you will see the face of God. Looking unto Jesus. Looking unto Jesus, the great, final guide and commander and authority for all that we face in our lives, everything, everything, looking unto Jesus.
There is no other authority to us in this earth comparable to the least spoken word of the Son of God. Other people may follow other teachers. There are some who are in love with theosophia, and there are some who follow Baha’i, and there are some who worship at the shrine of Mecca and bow down in the name of Mohammed, and there are a thousand who worship at the shrine of secularism and materialism. But we, we worship at the shrine of Jesus, looking unto Jesus! And what He says is authority for us and all-sufficient for us in this world and in the world that is to come. I never expect to get beyond, neither in this life nor in the heavenly life, the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. What He said about death, what He said about life, what He said about agony and trouble, what He said about the meaning of all things is enough for me now and forever. He is our great authority. And when I hear these students come and they say, “Pastor, did you know the professor out there said so and so, and did you know my teacher over yonder said so and so, and did you know it is written here in my book so and so?” If that so and so contradicts the teaching of Jesus, it has deviated from the truth of God. For all truth is to be found in the revelation and Word of Jesus Christ our Lord. He is our great and final authority. Looking unto Jesus, and looking unto Jesus as the ultimate end and holy prize in the race; there He stands with the reward in His hand, the crown for which the runner ran. There he is reaching forward toward the prize of our high calling of God in Christ Jesus [Philippians 3:14]. Looking unto Him, keeping our eyes on the goal. And did you know every step of the way, every stride in the course brings us a little nearer to that glorious and final day when we shall be with Him? Oh, infinite and everlastingly heavenly prospect, running unto Jesus in the race, with our face lifted up toward God.
In this ministry that I have had in this church here in Dallas, there have been some who have left this congregation and have gone to be with the Lord; immediately have left and have gone to be with the Lord. From the talk of this poor preacher, to the voice of the heavenly Bridegroom. From the fellowship of this earthly pilgrimage, to the fellowship with the saints in glory. Did you know a fogginess around our little ship now, but we may not be as far out at sea as we think. The shore, the end of our race may be just around the bend, just over the way. Is that a frightful prospect? Why, no! Why, no! Just a dearer, just a sweeter, just a sweeter propitious hour awaits us. Maybe sooner than we thought for, sooner than we expect. Why, between now and our next Lord’s Day, some of us may be in heaven. Some of us may spend Sunday in glory.
Between last Sunday and this Sunday, four of our dear people went away to be with Jesus. And Dr. Fowler shared in two other like services. In this past week, six of God’s people are spending this Lord’s Day in heaven. Next Sunday, some of us may be in glory.
Shall I tremble? Shall I fear? Shall I agonize before that prospect? Why, no! If I am on the other side of seventy, I am on the right side of seventy. If I am in a day of that great final end of the course, I am almost—I am almost arrived. I have come. I have received that crown of joy [1 Thessalonians 2:19], that reward of blessing. The sweat of the race traded for the sweet of the triumph. What is that old song our people used to sing? I don’t even think it is in this modern book.
My latest sun is sinking fast,
My race is nearly run;
My greatest trials now are past,
My triumph is begun.
O come, angel band,
Come and around me stand;
O bear me away on your snowy wings
To my immortal home;
O bear me away on your snowy wings
To my immortal home.
[“O Come Angel Band,” J. Hascall]
Looking unto Jesus, therefore, therefore seeing we are surrounded, encompassed with so great of a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, let us run the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus [Hebrews 12:1-2].
Our appeal to you tonight, would you enter that life with us? Would you make that pilgrimage by our sides? Would you run for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus? [Philippians 3:14]. Would you stretch out our hand and your heart toward heaven? Would you lift up your face to behold Jesus? Would you do it tonight? In this great throng of people, every time I preach here, I think of that text: “Wherefore, seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” [Hebrews 12:2], on every side and around; God’s people looking this way. While we prayerfully, earnestly sing this song of appeal, in that balcony round, on this lower floor, somebody tonight give his heart to God, looking unto Jesus, would you come and stand by me? In this balcony, down one of these stairwells; at the front and at the back, on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the pastor: “Pastor, I give you my hand. I give my heart to God, here I come.”
A family of you, to put your life with us in the church, would you make it tonight? I cannot make the appeal; God has to whisper the word. If the Lord says that word to you, would you come? For any reason, for any cause, as the Spirit of Jesus shall press the appeal to your heart, would you make it now? Would you make it tonight? On that first note of that first stanza: “Here I come, preacher, and here I am. I am giving my heart and my life to Jesus, looking unto Him,” or “We are putting our life tonight in the fellowship of this glorious church.” Would you make it now? On the first note of that first stanza, “Here I come, and here I am.” Would you so, while we stand and while we sing?
RUNNING THE RACE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. The arena of crowded tiers, like clouds of faces
1. Egyptian campaign of Napoleon – “Forty centuries looking downâ€¦”
2. World-famous picture “Madonna de San Cristo”
B. “Therefore” – having named heroes of the past – “let us runâ€¦”II. The race of the Christian life
A. Early Christians took life seriously
1. “Let us run agona” – translated “race”, our word “agony”
2. Sometimes a battle, a fight, but always picture of striving(2 Timothy 4:7)
B. “Let us run” – all of us in it
C. “The race set before us” – there is a chosen destiny for youIII. Stripping for the race
A. “Let us lay aside every weight”
1. Let us run un-weighted, free, unencumbered after the purpose of God
B. What is that weight?
1. Not a physical handicap
2. Handicaps and weights of the spirit
a. Prodigal son and the elder son (Luke 15:11-32)
1. The man could wear the clothes in that day, the toga
2. Imagery of throwing off the toga – strip for the race
3. Can’t run the race submerged and soaked in the evil of the worldIV. Looking unto Jesus
A. Aphorontes – looking away from, unto Jesus
1. Away from ourselves(Philippians 3:13-14, Isaiah 64:6)
2. Away from all others
B. None but Jesus
1. Our perfect Redeemer
2. Our Comforter, Keeper
3. Our Guide and Commander
4. In glory, our living Lord