12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 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. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

It has been a heroic month for Texas basketball. Between the Texas Tech men’s basketball, Baylor women’s basketball and Dirk Nowitzki’s retirement, Texas basketball fans have never known joy like they have the last few weeks. The question now on many minds is whether or not this basketball joy will continue. College basketball momentum is tough when players are constantly graduating and now that Dirk is gone, will the ideals of legacy and loyalty continue for the other Mavericks? The season of Lent is a heroic season for believers. We get to watch again as the ultimate battle plays out on the courts of the high priest Caiaphas and Pilate the governor. Each year we watch Jesus execute his plays perfectly as our Savior to live, die and rise to give us forgiveness and life. Each year Jesus comes out victorious in his battle, but each year our faith in him is threatened by sin. This Palm Sunday morning, our second reading from Hebrews 12 encourages us when we grow weary and lose heart against sin to focus on Jesus to finish the race.

On this Palm Sunday, we heard again the cries of the people in our gospel reading as Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem. Jesus was welcomed like a hometown hero at a championship game, but the crowds didn’t understand what type of game Jesus was going to play. The large crowds were looking to Jesus to reestablish the throne of David to rule as King of Israel without any more Roman influence, but Jesus’ heroic path to victory was entirely different. Jesus entered Jerusalem one last time to celebrate his final Passover meal, days before he was betrayed and put on the cross, where he would give his life as the true Passover Lamb. Only the few who saw Jesus through the eyes of faith were ready for what was coming next.

Faith in Jesus means understanding what race he ran for us. It was one thing for the crowds to welcome Jesus like a King, but another to understand what kind of King he was. And, it is one thing for us to praise Jesus, but another to understand why he deserves our praise. Our reading from Hebrews 12, explains that Jesus deserves our praise because he is

2…the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

The Greek word translated ‘pioneer’ has the same root word, ἀρχή, as the term ‘firstfruits,’ that also refers to Jesus. We get our word architect meaning ‘chief builder,’ from this word. The term describes Jesus as the one who went first, he was the first to die and be raised to life, like a pioneer blazing a new trail, he showed us that he is the path to eternal life. He is also the ‘perfecter’ of our faith, which comes from the same Greek word that Jesus spoke on the cross when he said,

 “It is finished.”

John 19:30

Jesus deserves our praise because finished the race to give us life. He was the first to win, and we will take hold of the same prize through him.

This prize we have in Jesus would fill us with joy all the time if sin did not still entangle us. When we get to enjoy moments like the crowds did as they welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem, everything seems good, but then sin comes and ruins everything. Like siblings bickering about Easter baskets after a wonderful service filled with God’s grace and peace. We would like it if Jesus still walked this world with us, but Jesus could not have stayed a King in this world. If he had stayed, we would still be lost in our sins and death. Jesus had to die on the cross, which was horrible, but it saved us. We would love it if Jesus was still here walking around with us, but instead we look forward to walking the streets of heaven with him by faith. And, we are encouraged in our faith by those who have gone before us as the writer to the Hebrews said,

12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.

The witnesses referred to here are from Hebrews 11, the “Heroes of Faith” chapter, which included Noah, Abraham, Sarah and Moses. Hebrews 11 closed with these words,

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

God promised deliverance to his people throughout the Old Testament and to us, but it is a deliverance from a race we are not equipped to finish. We are not equipped for our race toward Jesus and his joy because of sin.

Sin blinds us to the real race we are running. I think it is helpful to understand how our race towards Jesus and heaven is affected by sin by considering what an A&M fan has felt like during the past few weeks of college basketball. Up until this season of basketball, most A&M fans may not have realized that there were other colleges in Texas, let alone that they could be good at anything or at least as good as A&M is at things. Yet, their eyes have been opened and they learned what it is like to root for Texas against Virginia or Indiana and not just for their corner of this great state. When we get lost in our sins, we lose sight of the big picture and it really means that we turn away from recognizing God as God and we put ourselves in his position. When the crowds praised Jesus because the thought he was in Jerusalem for their agenda, they were wrong. When we praise Jesus, but then carry out our own agenda in how we live without first checking with God if it is good in his eyes, then we stumble off course and no longer race toward Jesus. Finally, when we run after sin, we are running away from God, but in our Old Testament reading from Isaiah 45, God says,

22 “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.”

There is no other God that can save us and there is no other race toward him except faith in Jesus.

Since we are not equipped to run the race against sin, we run the race of faith. The writer to the Hebrews encourages us to  Hebrews 12:3

3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

The opposition against Jesus was fierce because he embodied the enemy of sin. All the evil in sinful hearts had a target in Jesus and they gave him everything they had to get rid of him, but

2…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.

Jesus was ready for the cross and endured that punishment sure he would win, sure of heaven and sure of the victory he was winning for us. This victory is what we put our hope and trust in.

When we consider all that Jesus endured for us, we grow strong and our hearts remain focused on what Jesus has done. Focused on Jesus we remember our race is for the joy of heaven and to be there with our King. Focused on Jesus we understand that this race takes time as we heard in verse

1…And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Perseverance means refocusing on Jesus over and over. It means being reminded of our goal to be with him in heaven. It means being reminded

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9

Our boast will always be in the gift of God’s grace and what has been given to us through Jesus.

The boasts of the crowds on Palm Sunday for Jesus were quickly revealed to be anything but faith. Jesus ran his race to save us with endurance and perseverance, but the crowds were quick to give up shouts of praise and turn to shouts of punishment a few days later when Jesus was before Pilate. I wonder if all the fans at Dirk Nowitzki’s last game would have changed from praises to punishment if he had announced he was signing on with the Spurs instead of retiring from the Mavericks. We can change how we feel about someone so quickly, but if we ever lose hope in Jesus, we are truly lost. So, it is time to retire those sins that oppose Jesus and turn to faith in him. His forgiveness, love and life are far better than anything sin has to offer. And singing his praises in heaven follows a life of

2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

It has been a heroic month for Texas basketball, but more than that it has been a heroic Lent for Jesus. And in the coming days we get to watch again the epic showdown between Jesus and all who opposed him. Again, he will execute his plays perfectly as our Savior to live, die and rise to give us forgiveness and life. As we face our own opposition from sins entanglement, may God keep us from growing weary and losing heart by keeping us focused on Jesus to finish the race and hold on to his promise of eternal life. Amen.