Captured And Captivated By Christ: Hebrews 12:1-2 – Running the Race Set Before Us

Grace For The Journey

  We are making our way verse-by-verse through the Book of Hebrews and we will pick up today in Chapter 12.  The chapter begins with the word “Therefore” and that points us back to previous material.  I always tell our folks that when they see a “therefore” in the Bible they need to ask, “What is it there for?”  It is there because it represents the culmination of a previous thought or discussion.  In this context, the entire preceding chapter.  In Chapter 11 we read about the great “Roll Call of Faith” – all the wonderful Old Testament believers who lived by faith.

The writer of this letter seeks to encourage his readers to keep living by faith even in the midst of persecution and struggle.  Even before Chapter 11 he said in Chapter 10 and verse 32, “But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings …”  Then he provides examples from the Old Testament where others had struggled, yet they remained faithful.  This is his point . . . You do as they!  Keep moving forward in your faith.  In our passage before us this morning, he refers to all these Old Testament believers as “a great cloud of witnesses” for us. 

There is a sign on a highway leading into Atlanta meant incoming traffic onto a main road that says, “Keep moving.”  The transportation authorities do not want the traffic to get tied up at this busy interchange so they encourage drivers entering it to keep a safe speed that will keep the flow of traffic moving.  The Christian life is about moving forward, looking ahead, keeping on in spite of the many hardships, difficulties, temptations, and trials of life. 

God gives us faith to move forward.

If we can learn anything from the believers of old, it is how to move forward by faith, how to keep moving.  I want us to look at the topic of these two verses, “Running the Race Set Before us.”  

The Christian life is a race.  From these two verses are largely two main ideas that call for action . . . 

Run With Encouragement – Verse 1a.

Verse 1 says, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses …”  The writer refers to all these Old Testament believers about whom he has been writing in Chapter 11 as “a great cloud of witnesses.”  The Greek scholar AT Robertson says that “the metaphor refers to the great amphitheater with the arena for the runners and the tiers upon tiers of seats rising up like a cloud.”

Athletics was a big deal in the days this letter was written; the reader would be familiar with the Greek games – the Olympian Games at Mount Olympus, the Pythian Games at Delphi, and the Isthmian Games at Corinth.  The games provided athletes with an opportunity to gain fame and respect.  In those days you were either born into fame and royalty, or you were at the lower rung of the social ladder.  There was no middle class.  If you wanted everyone to know your name, you achieved greatness through military service or by participating in the games.  And if you won, you were given a laurel crown, a crown of leaves, which does not sound like much, but it allowed you to rub shoulders with the great and mighty.  Runners who ran the race were even allowed to sit in the Colosseum with royalty. 

For this reason, the New Testament sometimes contains that athletic imagery.  You will recall the Apostle Paul compared the Christian life to a race in 1 Corinthians 9:24-25, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.  And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.”  And in 2 Timothy 4:7-8, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

Some have read verse 1 without taking note of the context.  They come to the “therefore” and do not ask what the “therefore” was there for.  They read about this great cloud of witnesses and assume the writer is talking about multitude of believers in heaven above us and they are looking down upon us, and all the Christians up there in heaven are watching us.

I do not think that is what the writer has in mind here.  I do think it is possible for our departed loved who are in the Lord to look down upon us, but it would hardly be heaven for them to look down upon us!  I mean it could not really be heaven for them to look down upon us and see all the terrible effects of sin and the struggles we have in this sinful world!  They are free from all the sin, strife, and silliness that goes on in this sin-cursed world.  Why would they want to look down upon us?!  It would be like being forced to watch a bad movie over and over again.

No, the writer means to encourage his readers.  He is saying to us: “Look back at Chapter 11.  See all these great men and women of faith.  They kept going.  They lived by faith.  They are like so many people sitting in the arena of your race.  They surround you in the coliseum to encourage you – not as mere spectators – but as witnesses, witnesses to the faithfulness of God, God’s faithfulness to give you grace for the journey, grace to keep moving as they moved, grace to keep living as they lived, come what may, you can do it, you can keep running the Christian race until you cross the line!  Run with encouragement!”

It is what the Apostle James teaches in James 1:12, “Blessed is the man that endures trials: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.”  

Now, watch this in verse 1 . . . Right after this phrase about being “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” the writer provides a couple action steps for us . . . 

1) Let Go Of Stuff.

He says, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, (first action now) let us lay aside every weight.”  A runner runs as lightly as possible.  The lightest clothing … The lightest shoes.  Any excess weight, whether material stuff, or body weight, will ultimately slow the runner down.  I heard about a man who had back trouble.  He went to the doctor and said, “I’ve got back trouble” and the doctor said, “No, you don’t have back trouble, you have front trouble!  You’ve got some excess weight here.  Lose some of that weight and it will help you’re back.”

The writer’s point is that any excess baggage slows down the runner.  Applied to our Christian race, our Christian lives, we have got to “lay aside every weight” that slows us down.  Remember: the writer is using this running imagery as a metaphor.  In a moment he will talk about laying aside sin, so we know that is not what he has in mind here. There is something else.  These “weights” are what we often call the “stuff” of the world.  We must “let go of stuff,” the things that keep us from faithful living for Jesus Christ.  Many things are not bad in and of themselves, but they become bad when they keep us from running well.  Many good things become bad things when they keep us from Jesus.  

Someone has said, “Good things become bad things when they keep you from the best things.”  What are some good things that become bad things that keep us from the best things?  Our money is a good thing, but when it consumes our head and heart, it has become a bad thing.  When all we think about is how much money we earn or want to earn or have earned, it is become a bad thing.  God is the owner of our stuff.  We need to let go of it.  That does not mean give it all away.  It means do not clutch to stuff while we run.  Be ready to give as the Lord prompts us to give.  It is His anyway.  Do not fill your head and heart with worry for money and stuff. 

Our family is a good thing that can become a bad thing when it keeps you from the best thing – Jesus Christ, His church, His mission!  Let go.  That does not mean we do not take care of our family, or we do not pray for our family.  It means do not clutch to stuff while we run.  Our family is given you by God.  Do not fill your head and heart with worry for your family.  Remember Abraham with Isaac?  Trust God to do what is right.

Letting go of stuff also includes our health, our house, our job, and our view of success.  These can be like so much excess baggage and stuff to slow us down.  Do not be distracted.  Good things become bad things when they keep you from the best things.

I have noticed around the house in certain places near our trees some strands of spider webs.  They are singular strands, just like one line that comes across the walk.  I was curious about this so I googled it and discovered what they are is these strands spun out by baby spiders who are actually taking flight through the air.  It is called “ballooning” or “kiting.”  The spider waits for a slight breeze and then they spin out a line of silk – and it can be as long as six feet – and the breeze picks them up and takes them on their way.  And they will do this ballooning or kiting for protection or looking for food.  Fascinating, really.  But these singular strands keep appearing as I walk by.  It seems like they are always at the height what comes right across your eyes or your nose or your mouth, just enough to annoy you!  You break them as you go by and pretty some your find a few more when you come back.  They are an annoyance and a distraction.  One moment you are focused on walking by, enjoying the day and suddenly you come across one of those webs and you are “hit in the face” and your focus has been turned to getting it off of you!  

There are so many things in this world that get in the way of our walk with the Lord – our running the Christian race, living the Christian life – there are things that just come right across your face to distract you, to discourage you, to ensnare you, and entangle you like so many strands of spider webs, causing you to lose focus and joy.  The writer of Hebrews is saying, do not let them slow you down!!  Keep running! 

Run with encouragement, let go of stuff.  Secondly the writer says . . . Run with encouragement . . .

2) Let Go Of Sin.

The writer continues in verse 1 to say, “… and the sin which so easily ensnares us.”  The writer does not specify whether he has one particular sin in mind or sin in general.  Because the phrase includes the definite article “the sin,” many believe the writer is talking about one sin in particular, namely the sin of unbelief or unfaithfulness.  That would make sense since the writer has talked about unbelief more than once.  Recall Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please God.”  This is a recurring them in Hebrews.  Keep on believing.  Keep on surrendering.  Do not be discouraged when things do not go the way you would like, keep on moving forward by faith, like so many Old Testament believers.

The writer may also be talking about sin in general.  Lay aside every weight that ensnares you and lay aside the sin which ensnares you – whatever sin that may be.  Some of us battle recurring sins, frequent sins, and private sins that are like an untied shoelace to a runner.  Recurring sins like greed, gossip, lust, pornography, addiction, bitterness, and unforgiveness.  You cannot run the Christian race with this stuff clinging to you.  They will “trip you up.”  Confess that sin, repent from that sin, and get back in the race.  Let go of that sin.  Lay aside the sin which so easily ensnares you.

Here is the second main heading:

Run With Endurance – Verses 1b-2.

The writer ends verse 1 by saying, “… and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”  To “endure” is to “persevere, to keep going regardless of what comes your way.”  He says, let us run with endurance “the race that is set before us.”  Here is a reminder that we do not choose our own race, our own path.  We would likely choose an easy course, an easier path.  Our race is “set before us” by God.  He determines the course.  And it is not always easy.  The word for race is the Greek word άγών from which we get our English “agony.”  Often the Christian life is agonizing.  Sometimes God delivers us from these situations and sometimes He delivers us through these situations.  He brings us through it and on up to glory.  He knows best and always does what is right.

So . . . How do we run with endurance?  I am glad you asked . . . the writer tells us . . .

We Do It By Looking To The Savior.

Verse 2 says, “Looking unto Jesus …” We are encouraged by the Old Testament saints, but we are not to worship them.  The writer does not tell us to be captivated by them, but to be captivated by Christ.  Our gaze is to be fixed upon Jesus: Remember that the central theme of the Book of Hebrews is this notion of “better” or “greater.”  The words “better,” “more,” and “greater” occur a combined total of 25 times in this Book.  Jesus is better than anyone or anything!  Look unto Jesus!  That phrase: “Looking unto Jesus” literally means: “Look away to Jesus” – that is, “Turning your gaze from other things.”  It is an intentional movement of our focus.  Martin Luther translated it: “Off-looking,” looking off or away from other things and looking not “at” Jesus, but “unto” Jesus, fixed upon Him, captivated by Him.  You cannot fix your gaze on more than one thing at a time.

Rather than allowing other things to captivate you, be captivated by Christ!  He is “the author and finisher of our faith.” 

  • He is the One who originated our faith and the One who determines the outcome of our faith. 
  • He is the One Who both saves us and sustains us. 
  • He is the One who takes us from A to Z. 
  • He is the author and finisher, or completer, of our faith. 
  • He will perfect us to the end because He is the One who is perfect for us.

“Author and finisher” echoes the earlier teaching of Chapter 2 and verse 10, “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect though sufferings.”

Christ’s perfection leads to the Christian’s perfection.

His atoning work makes possible

Our salvation in the beginning

And completion in the last day. 

Perfection, as we looked at last time in the last verse of Chapter 11, verse 40, “God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.”  Christ’s perfection leads to the Christian’s perfection.  His atoning work makes possible our completion on the last day.

And the writer tells us here about Jesus’ atoning work on the cross.  See it there in verse 2, “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.”  Jesus endured the cross for us!  He was crucified, He was beaten, and He was crucified for our sins.  He endured the cross, despising the shame and ignominy of the cross, the public humiliation of it all.

Jesus endured the cross.  The Father did not deliver Him “from” persecution, but delivered Him “through” persecution.  Jesus was not given a victor’s crown in this life.  He ran His race and was given a crown of thorns.  But He suffered, died, and rose again!  And “has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Jesus is the ultimate example here!  Look unto Jesus “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross.”  Don’t overlook that phrase, “for the joy …”  It was . . .

  • The promise of joy that sustained Jesus as He suffered.
  • The joy of pleasing His heavenly Father strengthened Jesus as He suffered.
  • The joy of making possible our salvation by suffering in our place for our sin enable Him to endure it all. 

That is what strengthened Jesus and enabled Him to “move forward” by faith

Verse 3 wraps this truth up when it says, “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lets you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” The word “consider” literally means “think deeply about Him.”  We are to look to Jesus, think about Jesus, and see what He endured for us – That will encourage you to keep running, to keep moving forward by faith.

Do not look at your circumstances.  If you focus only upon your circumstances this week, you will be like Peter when he took his eyes off Jesus looking at the waves.  He started sinking because he took his eyes off Christ.  Do not do that!  Look to Jesus.

Looking unto Jesus and all the promises that are “yes” in Him!  Look to the future reward.  Look to the joy beyond your circumstances.  Jesus did this.  Even on the cross!  Remember when the thief on the cross turned to Jesus and said, “Lord, remember me when you enter into glory” and Jesus said, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise!”

He endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him.  The writer’s point is: “You do the same.”  Consider Him who endured such hostility … lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.  Look to the future reward.  Look to the joy beyond your circumstances.

That is the Apostle Paul’s point in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

If you look merely at “the things which are seen” or “the things which are temporary” and all you see is the struggle of your circumstances, children who have broken your heart, job loss, health challenges, and sickness.  But focus on the things which are not seen, the things which are eternal.  Look the future reward.  Look to the joy beyond your circumstances.  Look to Jesus!

Look to the One who said in John 14:1-3, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”  Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus!

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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