Hebrews 12:1-2a… Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus…
“Therefore” in 12:1 draws on the previous context regarding the heroes of the faith – those who went before and who were models of what it means to be “certain of things hoped for and convicted of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). These dead heroes of the faith surround the living saints of God as “witnesses” that God uses imperfect people who simply believe His word. Now though they “surround” modern saints they are not said to be spectators or fans who cheer the living on to victorious Christian living. The modern Christian ought not assume that Noah, David, and Samson are looking down with approval. On the contrary, the Christian’s audience is God, and pleasing Him is the only thing that matters. He is indeed watching. Dead saints gone before merely witness to faith and hope. Their stories are for the encouragement of all those who come after them (Rom. 15:4). One of the best ways to develop endurance and encouragement is to get to know the godly men and women of the Old Testament who ran their race and won.
The Christian life in 12:1 is likened unto a race. The Greek word for race is agon from which English derives “agony.” It has to do with a struggle or a fight. And that’s what the Christian walk is! It is a demanding, grueling struggle that takes “endurance” in order to remain in the race. Endurance is about patience and perseverance, for the Christian race isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. Like long-distance running, the Christian life is a life of discipline, self-control, and determination. This was the exhortation the audience of Hebrews needed, for they had grown weary of their trials and of awaiting the promised return of Christ.
The author gives three solutions for his audience to get them back in the race. First, they were to “lay aside every encumbrance.” This would entail getting rid of anything that would weigh them down. First century games were for men only, and they ran footraces naked in order to keep clothing from hindering them. Second, they were to put aside “the sin which so easily entangles.” Of course the sin of the Hebrews was their unbelief, and that is the worst sin of all because it “entangles” – literally controls, constricts, and obstructs. Finally, they were to fix their eyes on Jesus. In a footrace a track star looks at one thing: the finish line. If they take their eyes off of it to look at their feet or their fellow competitors they could stumble and lose speed. So too for the Christian who is to look to Jesus Christ alone as the goal. When the focus is on Jesus then the focus isn’t selfish. But when the focus is lost Christians stumble (cf. Peter in Matt. 14:28-31).
Food for Thought
If you’re in agony today from the Christian race, good! Your perseverance is heroic, for you not only endure your struggles, you also contend for the faith just like those saints who went before you. Keep running, keep breathing, and keep drinking your water (prayer, study, etc.). The Christian race isn’t won whereby others are beaten, per se; rather, the reward is for a strong and steady finish, a faithful life. To attain it we must believe and look to the future – to Christ.
What encumbers you to run your race faithfully? Too much TV? No discipline? Too busy of a schedule? Lay those aside, and get it together! What sin entangles you? Selfishness? Sexual sins? Pride? The love of money? Repent of that and get back in the race! The bottom line is that your focus is not on Christ. That basically sums up every single problem we face in our selfish little world today. We are busy looking at ourselves, jealous of others, and too caught up in worldly things to even glance at Jesus. Make it right today! Put it all aside, and look to Christ.
Hebrews 12:1b-2… let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Some Christians forget that they’re in a race and what that race is all about. It’s possible that no one ever really told them what the Christian race was. This is common today in churches where preachers take the focus off of Jesus Christ and obedience to him by not teaching from the Bible. The Hebrews audience had forgotten Jesus, and that’s why the author hammers through 11 chapters of Christ’s superiority. One wonders why true Christians would need this, but the answer is that even true Christians fall down and don’t get back up until someone helps them. The audience had fallen down and were out of the Christian race it seems. So he picked them up by preaching OT Scripture throughout to encourage their renewed participation in the race.
Since any Christian can lose his/her focus it is essential to call that focus back to Jesus Christ. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” So once the focus is back on Christ, a strong stride to the finish line is a given. To encourage bringing the focus back to Jesus, who he was had to be recalled. He’s the “the author and perfecter of faith.” Now since Jesus is the “author” of faith, he originated Abel’s faith and Noah’s faith – men who lived thousands of years before him. He pioneered their faith, having existed even in their day. But he also perfected it. Jesus was actually the one in whom Abel and the others looked to with great faith and hope – that which was unseen to them but which they believed nonetheless. Jesus completed his work when he died saying, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), and he perfected it by being resurrected from the death.
In the process of completing and perfecting the faith that was delivered once for all to the saints, Jesus, “for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising its shame.” Jesus went to the cross for the sake of the future joy his death would bring to many. Like those OT saints who looked to the future to find joy and peace in God’s promise to them, Jesus too looked not at the cross but beyond the cross. He looked through the cross to the future joy his death would bring to those children of his who would be saved by his death. But Jesus “despised its shame” in that he thought so little of the torture of the cross that he looked past it. This fits with what the author just told the audience about fixing their gaze upon Jesus, for in doing so they would look past the pain and agony the Christian life had brought them amidst their pagan God-hating world.
So Jesus saw past the pain of the cross to the joy of the outcome and the fulfillment of God’s promises, and once he completed his work and was resurrected “he sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The perfect tense of “sat down” signifies a permanent and lasting result, for the Greek tense concerns a past and completed event with future results. And this is exactly what the OT faithful looked for. Jesus modeled what they looked for and what they will attain. They looked past their circumstances and saw the future joy of God’s fulfilled promises just like Jesus looked past the pain of the cross and saw the joy of his resurrection. And just like Jesus, when those OT saints are resurrected, they too will fully realize the final result of their faith: eternal salvation. Jesus modeled it, and they saw it by faith before it ever even happened.
Food for Thought
All that matters in this world is looking at Jesus Christ. He made everything perfect, and all we must do is look past this imperfect and sinful world to Christ. If you’re struggling today it’s because you’re not looking to Jesus. Seek Him first, and see if God doesn’t take care of you.
Hebrews 12:3-4… For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 4 You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.
The verb “consider” in v. 3 is an accounting term. It means “to reckon; to sum up; to calculate.” It’s as if the author, after having spent 11 chapters doing side-by-side comparisons of Jesus and Judaism, is reconciling his report like an accountant with a spreadsheet. He’s telling the audience to calculate their knowledge of Christ over and against their own tribulations and make a decision about getting back into the Christian race.
In calculating Jesus, all readers of the Epistle of Hebrews, both then and now, must consider “Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself.” For the Hebrews audience, who were being persecuted and ridiculed for their faith, they needed to consider that Jesus had undergone far worse treatment than they but had remained faithful to his task. Their situation was not unique. For modern readers of Hebrews, especially the church in the U.S., there is scarcely anything resembling the harsh and physical persecutions of the first century church. And yet modern “Christians” apostatize when the least bit of persecution or difficulty arises in their lives. Jesus endured far worse than anyone, yet he remained faithful even unto death.
In merely considering Jesus and all that he endured in life and in death, the audience would indeed be focusing on him – fixing their eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith (v. 2). This is brilliant preaching because in simply preaching Christ the focus is taken off of man’s petty problems and put back where it belongs, on Christ. In so doing, the weary and tired soul gains strength. What the author is saying is that sincere and genuine Christians grow spiritually weary at times because they take their eyes off of Jesus and look around at their tribulations or fall victim to worldly desires. But the way to gain strength is to simply look to Jesus by going back to him and considering his life, his demeanor, and his example. Now the focus is off self!
No matter how badly the Hebrews had suffered the y “had not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood” in their “striving against sin.” In other words, they might have been going through some tough times, but they were still alive. Others who had gone before them had not fared so well (cf. 11:35-38) though they remained faithful, and certainly not Jesus who was crucified. In that sense they were still in the race, as it were, and could be thankful for that much. Their “struggle against sin” comes from a word that retains the imagery of the athletic games. They were in a battle for their own souls against those who would have them abandon their faith. And they battled their own temptations. Thus, they struggled mightily against sin and its powerful influence on them. During times like these it is the Bible teacher who brings the refreshment of the Living Water of Jesus Christ. Those who drink of him will never die (John 4).
Food for Thought
The Christian life is a daily struggle. The hope of God’s promises lies in the future, and every believer must strive for it. It’s the pilgrim’s journey. But that journey is fraught with burdens that hinder our progress. Sometimes we stop to rest and forget we’re in the race. At times while walking along the way we incur some hindrance that slows us down. All of these hindrances equate to the struggle we have daily with our own sin and with sinful people. But we must be strong! We have so many who have modeled true faith that have gone before us, so we must endure. The best way is to set Jesus in front by reading his word, praying for strength, and running the race with others who do the same. At the end of the journey Christ awaits in glory!
Ø Christian life as warfare: 2 Tim. 2:3; Eph. 6:11; 1 Cor. 9:26; 2 Tim. 4:7.
Ø Christian life as a race: (1 Cor. 9:24; Gal. 5:7; Phil. 2:16).
· The Race… (12:1)
o The Christian life is a race set before us.
o Christians must be in the race
o The race is a struggle (Greek agon – agony)
o The race is not a contest
· The witnesses… (12:1)
o They are not our audience (“I serve before an audience of One. Before all others I have nothing to prove, nothing to gain, and nothing to lose.”)
o They witness to us that the race can be finished as they finished strong.
o Our problems are not unique; others have endured.
· On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!…
o Some start well, and they are good at starting out.
o Some start, then they fall.
o Some start, then they stop (danger of the Hebrews audience; Mark 4)
o Some start and stop continually; they need biblical encouragement (Rom. 15:4)
o It’s the finish line that matters after we start.
· Running the Race Effectively…
o Lay aside all weights; encumbrances
o Confess all sins – Lay aside sin which easily entangles
o Run with endurance; a marathon
o Fix your eyes and attention on Jesus (Matt. 6:33; cf. serpent in Num. 21:4-9)
· When you get tired… (12:3-4)
o Consider that Jesus endured the worst of criticism and hostility from sinners
o Consider that you’re still alive.
· Avoid the Pitfalls…
o There are many who run the race but don’t know why (they come to church)
o They run into the same type characters that CHRISTIAN ran into
1. Mr. Worldly Wiseman, persuades Christians to listen to worldly advice.
2. Hypocrisy, talks like a Christian but has another face.
3. Timorous (timid), one who tries to persuade Christian to go back for fear of the lions
4. APOLLYON, the devil himself who tries to force Christian to return to his domain.
5. Wanton (sexually indiscriminate), a temptress who tries to get Faithful to leave his journey.
6. Adam the First, the Lust of the flesh, the Lust of the eyes, and the Pride of life.
7. Moses, representing the Law, which knows no mercy; legalistic
8. Talkative, he's all talk, no action; he talks fervently of religion, but has no fruitful works.
9. IGNORANCE, believes good works will get him into the Celestial City.
10. Atheist, ignorant mockers who say “God is dead”
11. Giant Despair, causes Christian to lose heart in view of his sin and predicament due to sin.
· Many Christians today live a luxurious life with no persecution and no challenge to be Christ-like. They are like runners who got tired, sat down, and have never gotten back into the race. There’s no agony, no persecution, and no genuine relationship with God. They have grown soft – a problem that was addressed by the prophet Amos in the OT: “Woe to you who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure in the mountain of Samaria” (6:1). The Christian race is one that is supposed to be demanding and arduous. Paul speaks of the Christian life in relation to warfare in his epistles (2 Tim. 2:3; Eph. 6:11; 1 Cor. 9:26; 2 Tim. 4:7). He was also one who may have read the daily sports page in his day, for he often spoke of races and games in relation to the Christian life (1 Cor. 9:24; Gal. 5:7; Phil. 2:16).
· The Greeks and the Romans were keenly interested in athletic contests, not only for their physical well-being, but also for the honor of their towns and countries. It was a patriotic thing to be a good athlete and to bring glory to your country.
· When the dying Jews looked to the uplifted serpent, they were healed; and this is an illustration of our salvation through faith in Christ (Num. 21:4–9; John 3:14–16). “Looking unto Jesus” describes an attitude of faith and not just a single act.
· It was our Lord’s faith that enabled Him to endure. He kept the eye of faith on “the joy that was set before Him.” From Psalm 16:8–10, He knew that He would come out of the tomb alive (cf. Acts 2:24–33.) In that psalm (16:11) David speaks about “fullness of joy” in the presence of the Father. Also, from Psalm 110:1, 4, Jesus knew that He would be exalted to heaven in glory (cf. Acts 2:34–36). So “the joy that was set before Him” would include Jesus’ completing the Father’s will, His resurrection and exaltation, and His joy in presenting believers to the Father in glory (Jude 24).