SO THEN … LET’S RUN! – Hebrews 12:1-2
Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on January 25, 2017 under PM Bible Study |
PM Home Bible Study Group; January 25, 2017
Theme: Because of all that’s been done before us, we must run the race of faith set ahead of us.
(All Scripture is taken from The New King James Version, unless otherwise indicated).
In much of what we have studied together from the Book of Hebrews so far, the writer has been making an appeal to his Jewish believing readers about the superiority of Christ over the old covenant. Because of persecution and troubles, these believers were tempted to return to their old ways of Judaism, and to not go forward in their faith in Christ. The writer appealed to them, however, “do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward” (Hebrews 10:35).
Most recently in our study, we have spent a considerable amount of time examining the great heroes of the faith that the writer pointed to in Chapter 11. He wanted to show that all of those Old Testament saints were faithful “witnesses”, whose testimony his struggling Christian friends ought to study and imitate. Those Old Testament heroes were ‘witnesses’ in the sense that they now bear witness—from the standpoint of having completed their struggle for the faith—that God is faithful to all His promises in Christ. They provide experiential evidence that “he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (11:6). Those witnesses were, in their time, like the runners in a great athletic competition; and they now rest in the victorious completion their race. Figuratively speaking, they presently cheer on those who must go on and run after them—shouting, as it were, like the crowds in the stands: “Keep running! Don’t give up! Look at us and see! Our Lord is faithful, and the victory is sure!”
And this leads us to the real ‘practical’ appeal of the Book of Hebrews. The writer says;
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 (Hebrews 12:1-2).
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Consider the main command of these two much-loved Bible verses: “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us”. The phrase that connects this command to what preceded it is, “Therefore we also …” The writer includes himself with the readers; and says that just as those who came before ran all the way to victory through faith in the promises of God, he and his believing readers needed to make sure that they “also” thus “run” the race set before them.
We should pay special attention to the word “Therefore” at the beginning of verse 1. It is an unusual word in the original language (toigaroun). It’s a ‘triple-compound’ word; meaning that it is formed by three words put together. Any one of the three individual parts this word would not make a very strong statement; but the compounding of these words together make this a very strong statement of consequence. You find this word only two other times in the New Testament. One occasion was when Jesus used it after questioning His opponents about who’s image was on a coin. He said to them, “Render, therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Luke 20:25). The other occasion was after Paul talked (interestingly) about running the race of faith in order to win; when he said, “Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty” (1 Corinthians 9:26). This particular word translated “Therefore”, then, puts a very strong emphasis to the conclusion of a long, carefully arranged, and very important argument. It presents us with the practical application of all that came before it.
And that application is that “we also”—in relation to that great cloud of witnesses who ran their race before us in their time—likewise should “therefore” run the race that is set before us. The Christian faith is presented to us in the original language as an agōna—an athletic race characteristic of an ancient Greek competition. It’s the word from which we get the English word “agony”; and it’s a good way to consider it, because it is a race that certainly demands a whole-hearted commitment in the running of it. The apostle Paul put it this way:
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. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
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How then are we to run this race that is set before us? Notice that the writer tells us that we’re to do so …
I. HAVING A CLOUD OF WITNESSES.
A. The writer tells us, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses …” (v. 1); suggesting that we should be mindful and fully aware of this great cloud of witnesses as we run. Just as a cloud in the sky is a great accumulation of individual particles of water, so the writer’s use of the word “cloud” suggests an enormously great number of witnesses—all gathered together as one vast group in order to make a powerfully convincing appeal. Obviously, this would include the many witnesses that had already been described in Chapter 11. But it no doubt means more than just them alone—perhaps including all of the many unnamed faithful ‘runners’ by faith in God’s promises who are not mentioned in Scripture. For us, this would also include the great heroes of Christian history and the countless faithful Christians throughout the past two-thousand years who gave their all for Jesus Christ and are now rejoicing with Him in victory. They are “the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven” (Hebrews 12:23). Their current state of victory should be what cheers the saints on in their race.
B. Since the word in the original language is best translated “having”, it suggests that we should not only recognize that this great cloud of witnesses exists, but also—as it were—embrace that cloud of witnesses as our own. Have you ever considered what a great gift from God it is that we have such a great “cloud” of witnesses?—not just one or two, here or there; but a great host of them? What a chorus of support they give! Many of them are the saints of history past who’s biographies we can read and learn from. But some of us have particular individuals who stand out for us in a personal way in the midst of that great cloud. They are those who had personally invested themselves in us; encouraging us and mentoring us in the faith. They ran the race ahead of us, and lovingly exemplified faithfulness to Christ for us—faithful Christian parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, pastors and friends. We should thank our heavenly Father that He has given us many such witnesses—even indeed a whole magnificent host of them! And we should run the race faithfully—listening to their encouraging cheers; so that when we finally join them in heavenly glory, they and we—together—can all rejoice in the victory before Christ!
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A second way we’re to run this race is by …
II. CASTING ASIDE ALL HINDRANCES.
A. A true athletic race requires so much of a great personal commitment that every possible burden—anything that might slow the runner down—must be thrown aside. And the same is true when it comes to the spiritual race of the faith. The writer urges his readers, as they run the race, to “lay aside every weight …” Just as a world-class athlete would not enter a competition while wearing a back-pack or dressed in an overcoat or wearing hiking boots, so we—who run the race of faith in Christ—must shed ourselves of every unnecessary burden. This would be similar to what Paul wrote about when he told Timothy;
No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier (2 Timothy 2:4).
B. But the writer takes it further. He also adds, “and the sin which so easily ensnares us …” The phrase “every weight” speaks in general terms; but “the sin which so easily ensnares us” brings the matter down to specifics. What might that particular sin be? It’s probably safe to say that it’s unique to each one of us. All temptations put us in danger; but there are some to which we, personally, are particularly susceptible—things that might not so easily trip-up someone else, but that certainly do ensnare us. The Lord Jesus warned us about this in very strong terms. In the Sermon on The Mount, He said;
If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell (Matthew 5:29-30).
In the case of the exhortation that the writer of Hebrews is giving us, eternal damnation is not an issue. He is writing to redeemed people. But the easily-besetting sins that impact us personally can cause us to fall short in the race, and thus lose eternal rewards; and it is worth our every effort—even to the point of taking radical measures—to be on guard against them and rid ourselves of them. The good news is that, even though some particular sins may tend to easily trip us up personally, our good heavenly Father promises to give us particular and personal help. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:13;
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13).
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A third way that we are to run this great race is by …
III. ENDURING THROUGH THE DIFFICULTIES.
A. The word that the writer of Hebrews uses in verse 1 is hupomenō; and it’s a word that is made by combining the word for “to abide” or “to remain” (menō) with the preposition for “under”. So; to “endure” in this case suggests the idea of “abiding” or “remaining” under the strain of suffering or trial or difficulty—to bear up courageously and keep at it; not giving up. Someone can, after all, enter into a race, set aside every possible hindrance, and begin to run; but unless they continue running when the race becomes hard, or the incline becomes steep, or the muscles grow weary, they will not finish. Nobody gains points for having simply entered their name into the race, or for having run only a portion of it. Once begun, in order to win, the race must be ran all the way to the end. And so, we are to run “with endurance” the race that has been marked out for us.
B. In His parable of the soils, Jesus spoke of the seed that was cast on the stony ground. The soil was not deep; and the seed that sprouted up was easily scorched by the sun and withered away. This, He said, was an illustration of someone
who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles (Matthew 13:20-21).
It’s not the one who simply ‘grows’ a little who produces fruit, but rather he who endures—even in the face of persecution or trial or hardship for the faith. Jesus told His followers;
And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved (Matthew 10:22) –
not to say that they would earn their salvation by their endurance; but that their endurance will prove that they truly are saved. As the writer of Hebrews put it earlier …
Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:
“For yet a little while,
And He who is coming will come and will not tarry.
Now the just shall live by faith;
But if anyone draws back,
My soul has no pleasure in him.”
But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul (Hebrews 10:35-39).
May it be, then, that we both endure in the race all the way to the ‘finish-line’ of salvation; and also prove the reality of our salvation by the fact that we endure all the way to that ‘finish-line’!
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Finally—and most wonderfully—he tells us that we are to run this race …
IV. LOOKING UNTO OUR EXAMPLE.
A. Of all the great ‘runners of faith’ that we are to look to—all of whom constitute that great cloud of witnesses around us—we are to look most of all at Jesus Himself. The writer says we are to run the race set before us, “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith …” (v. 2a). He is our chief example. The writer says that we are to be looking to Him with a very strong, very exclusive kind of ‘looking’; using a word (aphoraō) which speaks of viewing something with undivided attention—looking away, as it were, from everything else. As we run the race of faith, the world seeks to distract our attention by calling us to look at other things as well as Christ—or even in His place. It tempts us to not be so exclusive in our view; but to look also at other things that it sets up as worthy of our gaze. But for us, the race is only won successfully by keeping our eyes continually and exclusively upon Jesus—and by turning away from every lesser thing. The apostle Paul once warned the Galatian believers, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?” (Galatians 3:1). They took their eyes away from Him and His cross; and so, were “hindered” from “obeying the truth” (Galatians 5:7). Only Jesus is worthy of this exclusive kind of ‘look’ from us; because He is presented to us both “author” of our faith (that is, the one who has begun it for us and has pioneered the path ahead of us by His cross), and “finisher” of our faith (that is, the one who brings it to full completion and perfection for us).
B. How is it that Jesus, specifically, is our great example? What is it about Him that we are to keep ‘looking’ upon? We’re told that it is He “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” (v. 2b). The “joy” that was set before Him could not have been the heavenly goal that we run for; because He was already glorified in heaven. Rather, His “joy” was the prospect of redeeming us and bringing us to glory with Him; so that we will dwell forever with Him in the glory of His heavenly inheritance. As He Himself prayed to the Father concerning us—just before going to the cross for us:
“Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).
It was this prospect that caused Him to willingly “endure” the horrible indignity of the cross for us—“despising” or “scorning” or “looking down upon” the shame of it; so that now, He sits at the right hand of the Father in glorious victory, and waits for the day when we will—with absolute certainty—be gathered to Him. Jesus’ love for us is a glorious subject worthy of our full consideration; but the point that is being made by it in this passage is that His sacrifice of love for us makes Him our greatest example in the race of faith. As Paul puts it in Philippians 2:5-11—in the context of modeling Jesus’ sacrificial love in our conduct toward each other;
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).
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So then; we are in a race. It’s one that—given all that God has one for us in Christ—is fully worthy of running faithfully. And we do so successfully by (1) holding on to that great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us, (2) setting aside every unnecessary weight and hindrance, (3) striving forward with unwavering endurance, and (4) keeping our gaze fixed upon Jesus.
What a glorious day it will be when we finally break the tape at the end—and hear our Master say to us, “Well done!” Can anything else on this earth be worth more?
So then … let’s run!