Lose the Baggage!

Lose the Baggage!

© 2019 C. O. Bishop

Hebrews 12:1-4


Quite some time ago, we went through Hebrews eleven, and saw the various results of faith in the lives of the Old Testament believers. Some saw great miracles. Others were bereft of all their possessions and loved ones, and were hounded across the land, hiding, and just trying to survive. Still others were tortured and executed for their faith, dying horrible deaths.

The very last phrase (Hebrews 11:40) states that we are part of that same group of people; the household of faith…and we can expect similar things, to one degree or another. Remember, too, that chapter twelve is a direct continuation of chapter eleven…So, let’s see what it has to say:

God’s Witnesses to Us

1Wherefore 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 with patience the race that is set before us,

A lot of readers think this means that we have a great cloud of people watching us. That is not the point of this passage at all. Witnesses bear testimony. That is why we want eye-witnesses when something like an accident has happened. We want them to tell what they saw. We saw in Acts 1:8 that Christ has chosen us to testify on His behalf, for the benefit of the hearers. Our testimony to others is a witness to the truth and power of the Gospel. But we need witnesses, too, to testify to us of the faithfulness of God. These witnesses in verse one are letting us know that God is faithful and that he is worthy of our complete faith and obedience. They are not “watching us”, but rather are testifying, across time and space, to encourage us to trust and obey God, just as they did.

There is nothing at all in Scripture to suggest that the folks who have gone on to be with the Lord have “nothing better to do than to sit around and watch us fumble around trying to walk with the Lord!” They are literally in the presence of the living God! Why would they waste even a moment looking at my bumbling attempts at obedience? It’s too sad to be a comedy, and too ridiculous to simply be a tragedy. And, honestly, compared with seeing, and worshipping the glorified Christ, surely it would simply be an utter waste of time. Those people are physically, visibly with the Lord! They are only remotely concerned with life on earth. They have better things to do! But their lives still bear testimony to us. So who are these witnesses, and what are they really doing? They are the ones listed in Hebrews chapter 11, among others, testifying to us, by their own already-completed lives, that the Christian life can be done!

(There is an old joke that asks “Why did the Oregon chicken cross the road?” The answer: “To show the opossums that it can be done!”) Through God’s written Word, those saints who have gone before us are all eternally testifying to anyone who will listen, that we can trust Him, and that we, too, can live by faith, and walk in obedience to God. Think about the specific examples He chose for witnesses: Almost all the ones he named or alluded to were people with fairly serious failures in their lives. They were not “Super-Christians” by any means. This is definitely a case of “If they can do it, so can we!”

So, Lose the Baggage!

On the basis of their testimony, we are called to lay aside whatever is entangling our feet, and every parasitic weight with which we have chosen to burden ourselves. Isn’t this race difficult enough without carrying all the baggage we each tend to haul along with us? Isn’t it easier to run when you don’t have your feet entangled in some sort of muck, mud, or rubbish? God calls us to set aside the baggage: examine your own life, and ask yourself honestly, “What baggage am I carrying in my heart, that keeps me from freely serving God?” Am I still holding grudges that keep me from God’s Joy? Am I afraid of losing some possession, so I will not give it up to God? Do I really distrust God so much that I can’t rely on Him to provide His joy in my life? Do I really treasure the clutter and broken toys of the self-directed life so much that I will cling to that wreckage rather than to lay it aside in favor of the God-directed life?

Every one of those witnesses in chapter eleven is telling us to do these two things:

  1. Lay aside the baggage, along with the sin that so easily besets us; and
  2. Run with Patience—endurance—stamina, the long-distance, cross-country race that is set before us.

It is not a sprint. It is a lifelong up-hill slog, over rough country: but He is beside us, step by step, the whole way. We can find great encouragement by reading about the lives of those who have gone before, and accepting their testimony as positive encouragement: But, for our prime example, we are called to “look to Jesus:”

Looking Unto Jesus, the Perfect Example

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 is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

As you are learning to “look unto Jesus”, don’t miss this little phrase: “…the author and finisher of our faith.” What does that mean? How is Jesus the author and finisher of our faith? Though faith is always a personal choice, God laid the foundation for that faith in the Person of Christ. He is the author of faith. He is also the One who moves to perfect its work in each of our individual lives. We are drawn along to trust Him more, as we walk with Him. We grow in our faith, as we learn to obey Him. Who accomplishes that growth? Jesus does!

If you have ever raised a garden, whether flowers or vegetables, you know that the most you can do is plant the seeds in appropriate soil, at the correct time of year, in a place where they will get an appropriate amount of sunshine, and then water them faithfully. But God is the author of life! If the seeds you planted do not germinate, there is nothing you can do to correct that problem except to replant with better seeds, and, hopefully, early enough to still be able to take advantage of the growing season. God is always the author of life and growth. God, the Son, is the author and finisher of our faith.

Jesus stated in John 12:32 that if He himself should be lifted up from the earth (in crucifixion) He would draw all men to himself. His sacrificial death for our sake is the lure of faith. He applied that “drawing power” to the entire human race, through the preaching of the Gospel. We either believed or did not: but the one who provided the object of our faith, the reason for faith—is Jesus. And He did so for the Joy that was set before Him.

So, what was the “Joy” that was set before Jesus? For what prize would he consider it worthwhile to endure the Cross? What future joy was only attainable by enduring the shame and brutality of a Roman execution by crucifixion? What was He hoping to gain? He was purchasing the Bride! He counted His relationship with us to be that Joy, along with the Joy of His relationship with the Father. How do we know?

1st Peter 1:18-20 says, “…ye were not redeemed (“bought back and set free”) with corruptible things as silver and gold…but with the precious blood of Christ…foreordained before the foundation of the World, but manifest in these last times for you.”

Did you get that? Jesus, the Lamb of God, was ordained to death before the World was created! That is why Revelation 13:8 refers to him as “…the Lamb slain from the foundation of the World.” Peter makes it more specific: the plan for the salvation of Man was made before the creation, not simply before the Fall of Man. And the plan was specifically that He would redeem us (Greek verb lutroo—“bought for the purpose of being set free”) by His own blood.

Paul took note of this in Acts 20:28, speaking of “…the church of God, which He hath purchased (different Greek word, periepoieomai, meaning “to acquire”) with his own blood.” And we see in Ephesians 5:26 that Jesus has cleansed that church “…with the washing of water, by the Word,” in order to present to Himself a spotless Bride.

Finally, in Revelation 22 we hear the voice of the Bride with that of Christ, inviting sinners to salvation. This holy partnership is the Joy that Jesus counted so precious that he willingly endured the Cross, and despised the shame as being beneath his attention.

That is hard for me to understand; because, frankly, we are not that attractive, as sinners. We all have been enemies of God (Romans 5:10), and He changed us, giving us a new nature. But the fact remains that while we were enemies, He chose to love us with the agapé love and to extend His Grace to us as a free gift. And, even after we have been born again into the family of God, we are called his “sheep”, and, as far as I can see, we are just about as attractive as the four-legged variety. Very contrary creatures, at best; stinky, not too bright, and utterly defenseless against predators. (Yep…it fits!)

More Baggage to Lose

For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.

Occasionally, it has really bothered me when someone who absolutely does not know about a subject in which I have been thoroughly trained, argues vehemently that I am wrong about it. I wanted to justify myself, and “pull rank”, or something: to prove by my credentials that I am more of an authority on the subject than they are.

But Jesus came to us as One who is literally God in the Flesh…fully omniscient, and all-powerful, yet temporarily setting those prerogatives aside, in order to live as a human. And, in that “diminished” state, though still fully God, and Holy beyond human imagination, while He was quietly carrying out His eternal plan, He endured not just “contradiction” in the sense we know it, which is just one “ignorant human” calling another human “ignorant:” He also endured the verbal and physical abuse from the people who claimed to serve and honor Him (these were His own people!) cursing him to his face, and denying everything he said. Even accusing him of being a slave to Satan, the real enemy of their own souls.

Could Jesus have “pulled rank,” so to speak, and called down fire from heaven, as Elijah did, to burn up all of those who sought to kill him? Or, couldn’t He have cursed the people, as Elisha did, so that bears would come charging out of nowhere, and tear them up? Of course, he could have! But, actually, that is kind of the point, here: if He, who could have defended himself against all His enemies, and He who is the author of all righteousness, chose to endure, for the sake of those sinners (that’s us, just in case you are thinking, “yeah, those nasty Pharisees…!”); If he endured it all, for the sake of the Gospel, and for the sake of the eternal souls of the sinners he cared for, and the eternal reward to come, shouldn’t we do the same? I have no righteousness of my own: none at all, in fact, beyond that which He has imputed to me, so I can’t even claim that I am any better than those who speak against me. I am a sinner, too! (There is some more baggage to lose! The right to self-justification, and self-vindication.)

I also have no power or authority to force them to stop maligning or mistreating me, which is probably a good thing; but, remember: He did have all power, and He chose to set it aside for our sake. As it is, He warns us to not seek vengeance. He is the judge, and will make things right in His time. So I am to endure hardship, for testimony’s sake, and for the sake of the souls of the very people acting as my adversaries. And God counts that obedience to be precious in His sight.

Where do We Stand?

Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.

Evidently those specific people to whom he wrote had not been physically wounded, so far. There certainly were those in the early church who had been martyred for the sake of the Gospel, and others who had been beaten, and wounded, as Paul himself had been. Evidently these believers simply had not. Neither have I.

There is a passage (Galatians 6:17) where Paul points out that he “bore in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” He was apparently referring to his countless physical scars from beatings, stonings, scourgings, and more. But he was aware that, as is my own case, these particular believers had never been physically wounded for the sake of the Gospel. Perhaps they did receive such treatment later on, or, perhaps not. But I can take this personally, and know that I actually have had a pretty easy time; I really have nothing to whine about, though I frequently do so anyway.

He goes on to point out that they had a long way to go in their relationship with God, too. Part of our whining happens just because we really don’t understand the purpose of God, which is working out in our lives.

That sort of thing can happen on a very common earthly basis, as well. I remember being moved from one job to another, at work, once, when I had been there for less than a year: I was alarmed, because I thought it meant I was not doing a good enough job where I was. I asked what was wrong, and why I was being pulled off that job. The supervisor patiently informed me that nothing was wrong, that I was doing fine, but he simply needed me elsewhere. I wasn’t happy about it at the time, but had no choice in the matter. As it turned out, I was moved more and more frequently, as my skills grew, until I looked forward to it, seeing each new task as a fresh challenge, and each new assignment as an indication that my supervisors were confident in my ability, skill, and reliability. And the result was that I got better and better assignments, building special projects, teaching others, and testing the skills and abilities of other employees.

So, what we saw in Hebrews 11:40 was that God reserves better things for our future than the things we have lost through following Him. Joseph the patriarch was not happy to be kidnapped, sold as a slave, accused of a crime he did not commit, and thrown into prison…but he served God faithfully, and, yes, God had something better in store.

Should we, therefore, expect that that “something better” will be delivered in our lifetimes? Not necessarily! Remember the people in Hebrews 11:36-39! They specifically did not receive the promise during their lifetimes. And God says they held out for His best, and got something better! Hold on! Lose the baggage, but don’t lose hope! The best is yet to come!

Lord Jesus, teach us to find our Joy in You, and not look for happiness in our circumstances, so much as to look ahead to your reward.

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