We are finally up to the 12th chapter of Hebrews in our study of that book in prayer meeting on Wednesday nights. Hooray! I have always loved the word picture painted here of runners in a race. I've been a runner for almost 20 years now. I haven't won any races- I've come in dead last in a few :), but never come close to winning any. I'm not a fast runner at all. I prefer the longer distances, slower paces. Although a marathon scares me and I've shied away from ever attempting one, I am thinking that one day a half marathon might be in the cards for me. A half marathon in which my only goal is to finish, not beat any world records. :)
Here's what Hebrews 12:1-2 says:
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God."
The Hebrews 12 series is titled, "Success in the Christian Life". Bro. Greg defined success in our walk with God as "staying faithful to the Lord wherever you are, with whatever you have, in whatever you face." Success is enduring to the very end; finishing well. Success in the Christian life is not defined by how many classes in theology you have completed, or how many books you have written, or how famous your sermons or songs are. It is simply being faithful to God in the particular race that is set before you. Each one of us has a race set before us. Our courses look different but they all have some hills, some tough spots along the way. Our goal is to stay faithful and keep running to the finish line.
The "great cloud of witnesses" is all the Christians who have gone before us and faithfully endured to the end. Some have endured persecution, hardship, trials, even martyrdom. The word picture is actually not one of people cheering us on from a distance in the stands, as I've always imagined, but of them actually running alongside us, reminding us "If we can do it, you can do it!" I love that.
What specifics does the Bible give us for continuing the race and enduring to the end? Three things: 1) Laying aside every weight- we can't keep running and moving forward if we are weighed down. Runners only wear what is absolutely necessary in a marathon and don't carry any heavy loads- would get too tired and wear out and eventually quit. Likewise, weights we carry aren't necessarily "bad" things when in their place, but they are the things that become too important and throw us off balance so they become too "weighty" of a priority in our lives. We have to lay these aside. Bro. Greg didn't mention this, but I also have to think that since Jesus talks about giving Him our burdens, about His yoke being easy and His burden being light, that when we are walking in His will we won't be weighed down. If we are feeling over-stressed and weighed down, we need to identify what it is that is weighing us down and cast it off. This can be a number of things- guilt, anxiety, fear, anger, unforgiveness. Or as Bro. Greg said, it could be something good in itself that has just become too much of a priority. I need to ask myself "Is this thing helping me become the person God wants me to be? Is it bringing me closer to God?" 2) Laying aside the sin that clings so closely (or so easily entangles). This suggests a sin that is "close by", or as some people say, a besetting sin. Some area of personal weakness or chink in our armor that needs to be kept in check. We can't run the race with endurance if we have this clinging to us. 3) "Looking unto Jesus. . . " Instead of telling us to watch out for potholes, or worry about the hills ahead, or wave to the bystanders, the Word says to literally "fix our gaze upon Jesus" or intentionally focus on Him. I think of Peter walking on water. When his eyes were fixed on Jesus, He was safe. When he looked at the waves, he started to drown. Jesus is our example for how to live the Christian life. There are four Gospels so we have good blueprints for how to live.
". . . the Author and Finisher of our faith. . . " Hebrews 2:10 also called Jesus the "Captain of our salvation". He is the Beginner, Initiator, Leader and Example of our faith. He is also the One who finished it- "It is finished", He said as He breathed His last breath. Our salvation begins and ends with Jesus. He determines the course and its length for each of us.
". . . Who, for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of God." In the ultimate endurance test, Jesus finished well. He is our example. "The joy that was set before Him" is our same joy. It helps so much when you can see the finish line. Jesus has already told us what is ahead and it will be worth it all.
Wow! Talk about the ultimate Locker Room Pep Talk! I love this type of language. It's so encouraging. Reminds me of one of my FAVORITE movie scenes of all time. The Death Crawl from Facing the Giants. Watch it now. And DO NOT QUIT!!!