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Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 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 has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” (Heb. 12:1-3)

In the Grecian games, the footrace was first in the order of the events and first in importance. It was deliberately designed as an endurance contest. The race demanded, not brilliant starters, but stouthearted plodders. The word which is translated as “race” (agon) is actually where the athletic contest took place. It is a form of the Greek word agonia which referred to the arena of intense struggle and agony. The point the writer is making to his readers is that Christianity is a marathon, an endurance race for a lifetime.

And since we have a long way to run -- we don't want to be burdened down for the race. That’s why the text continues with “...let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us.” This race has eternal consequences, and we don't want anything to get in the way. “Weight” would be anything that would prevent us from going the distance, especially sin! The English Standard Ver- sion words this phrase as “the sin which clings so closely.” Sin deceives us, trips us up, and never wants to let us loose. But the writer says we must cast aside all obstacles if we want to successfully run this marathon.

The Junior and Senior High students are all invited to a devotional in the home of Wesley & Kara Bishop this evening after services.

Several years ago, a Christian who was the president of a large state university stated his belief that students do not lose their faith because of evolution in the science department or humanism in the philosophy, psychology, or sociology departments. Rather, he felt that they become so absorbed with secular studies and secular activities that they do not take time for spiritual things. They neglect attendance at services, neglect Bible study and make their friends among worldly people. They die spiritually, not from poison but from spiritual malnutrition. Today, this is happening to children long before they get to college. And some of the finest, best intentioned and most sacrificial and loving parents are contributing to it.

Please pardon a personal reference. My parents were very concerned about keeping control of their children. My father complained 50 years ago that the schools were trying to take over the rearing of children and he was determined not to let that happen to his family. Anything the school planned that conflicted with church activities was considered an encroachment by the school. We did not participate in organized sports, either in school or in summer programs. We did not play in the band or join the scouts. As a rule, when school was out we came home.

You may think my parents extreme. Perhaps they were. But one thing was certain: We had time for whatever Christians were doing anywhere in the areas where we lived. We not only attended every regular service and every service of gospel meetings in our home congregation, but we attended most services of any meeting anywhere in driving distance even when meetings lasted the greater part of two weeks. Preachers who came preaching in the area learned to expect the Hall family near the front of the building night after night. I never remember going out of town for a ball game, but I remember many trips out of town to gospel meetings and lectureships. Those gospel preachers became our heroes and the members of those congregations became the friends whose respect and confidence we most desired.

Hezekiah became king of Judah at the age of twenty-five and reigned for twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. He was a faithful servant of God, and did many things to keep his people on the right path. For instance, when the people of Judah set up places to worship idols and false gods, Hezekiah broke the pillars of the places of assembly and tore down the idols. The scripture tells us he trusted the Lord “so that there was none like him” either before or after, and that he “held fast to the Lord” and “did not depart from following Him” (2 Ki. 18:5-6). As a result of his faith, God made Hezekiah prosper. As he stood firm in his faith and trust in God, he was able to defeat the Philistines and refuse to serve Shalmaneser, king of Assyria.

Over a period of about ten years, two kings of Assyria began to make war with the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. King Salmaneser conquered Samaria and took captive Israelites back to Assyria, then King Sennacherib made war with the fortified cities of Judah and took them. It is apparent at this point that Hezekiah began to lose his nerve. In order to preempt an attack on the city of Jerusalem, Hezekiah attempted to compromise with the Assyrian king. He sent an apology to the king, offering to do anything he required. Sennacherib demanded three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. Hezekiah was forced to strip the gold from the doors and doorposts of the temple and empty the king’s treasury to meet the enemy’s demands. After the demands were met, the apologies were offered and the gestures for peace were extended, things were settled, right? Wrong. Bad things were just beginning. The Assyrian army didn’t slow down in its march across the land of the Israelites. Almost immediately, representatives of the Assyrian king were outside the gates of Jerusalem and demanding surrender or face siege, death and destruction.

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