Hebrews 12Hebrews 12:1-3

Hebrews 12 begins with a mighty affirmation. That affirmation is that you can be in a hall of fame, a list of greats, a meeting of the magnificent men and women of faith. The chapter begins, “Therefore, let us run the race ….” This affirms the truths of Hebrews 11 and makes a deduction from those truths. It affirms that the individuals and groups of Hebrews 11were people of faith. That is to say, they believe that God is [His existence] and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. They were people who lived for the future and the invisible. Yet the beginning of Hebrews 12 intends to leave that list open for new members. “We also ourselves can run that race ….”

Run the race in light of the encouragement. We run the Christian race and live the Christian life under encouragement from a vast number of observers. The apostle presents the Christian life as if lived in a gigantic stadium. Who has not felt the electrifying power of a capacity crowd in a stadium? The apostle knew of the Greek and Roman coliseums. The world’s largest stadium today is the Strahov Stadium in Prague, Czechoslovakia. It was completed in 1934 and can accommodate 240,000 spectators. The second largest stadium in the world is the Maracana Municipal Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. That stadium accommodates 205,000 people. Can you imagine the sheer human energy and intensity that characterizes gathering places like that?
The apostle says that we are to live the Christian life as if in a stadium conscious of the presence of others. The location of those others is surrounding us. They encircle us and go up and up forever. The number is expressed by the word “cloud” of witnesses. The word refers to a cloud that fills the whole heavens. It is not a detached cloud, but a horizon-filling cloud.
Now use your imagination. Your Christian life is lived under the view of an encircling multitude who have gone before you, beginning with those listed in Hebrews 11. You should not imagine a few people, but every horizon packed with towering ranks of saints whose faith is now made perfect.
What is the function of these witnesses? It is two-fold. First, they are witnesses in the sense that they testify to you, they are attestors to you, they give a witness to you. A stadium filled with witnesses like a cloud are all saying something to you. They are speaking with love and sympathy, not with judgment and anger. They have run the same race, even yet more difficult. What are they saying in their witness?
They are saying first of all that they are real human beings who conquered by faith. They would tell you, “We are not a group of plastic saints.” Look at the list. A drunk like Noah, a liar like Abraham, a trickster like Jacob, a person of power and passion like Samson, and David with his well-known sins. These are not perfect people. In fact they were not even close to perfect people. Their counterparts are sitting right here today. Yet they lived lives of faith as defined by Hebrews 11:1, Hebrews 11:6.
They are testifying to you. Noah is telling every drunk that you can stop. Abraham is telling every fearful liar that you can tell the truth. Jacob is telling every deceiver that you can quit cutting shady deals and live above-board. Samson is telling you that God’s power can win over your passion. David is telling you that you can overcome the worst things a human being can do.
Each one of them is crying out, “Do not despair. We made a decision to live by faith and found a way up and out.” You can overcome anything but final, absolute despair. The Hebrew letter was written to people who found out that the Christian life was harder than they imagined. They were wavering, giving up, quitting the Christian church and going back to the synagogue. The author was pleading with them — listen to the witnesses in the stadium.
But there is a second sense in which they encourage us. They are watching us. The Christian life is lived under observation. Obviously the triune God watches us. The very angels watch the church (Ephesians 3:19). In 1 Corinthians 4:9 Paul stated, “It seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men.” Paul lived with the sense of being watched.
We live the Christian life under the observation of the saints of the ages. That might discourage you unless you understand the significance of it. You could ask, “Have those people in Hebrews 11 seen everything I have done?” That cannot be answered from the Bible. But they do understand perfectly, know as they are known, and can understand how God moves you from sin to the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ.
What if you were to play the piano in an auditorium full of Van Cliburns, paint in a studio full of Michelangelos, or step up to the plate in a stadium filled with all-stars of all the years? You would want to do your best.
Hebrews 12 reminds us that we are being watched by an increasing number of those who have won the same race, and now sympathetically testify to us by their lives already lived. Because of that great cloud of encouragers and witnesses, we live with a home field advantage.
The Minnesota Twins play in the enclosed, sealed-for-freshness Metrodome. The screechers in the bleachers have yelled at a level of 100 decibels. Minnesota’s post-season performance at home was six wins and no defeats. Other teams were unnerved by the place. As the season progressed in 1987 the Twins came to believe they could not lose at home. The Twins won sixty-two of eighty-seven games there and became the first World Series team to sweep four home games. They built the consciousness of a tremendous home-team advantage in their own stadium.
That is precisely why the author of Hebrews wrote these words. We live in a visible environment of opposition from the world, the flesh, and the devil. He admonishes us to look up and around us at the cloud of witnesses and recognize that we really are in our own friendly stadium where we can win if we listen.
Run the race without the impediment. Even as we are encouraged by the witnesses, we are to take responsibility for our own progress in the race. We are to take radical action at two levels. The first level deals with everything that hinders. The second level is sin itself.
We are to strip off everything that hinders. The original reference is clear. The Greek athlete ran the race with little or nothing on. Nothing was to impede, retard, or frustrate the forward movement. The word itself was used for the bulk of the body, an arrogant bearing with undue confidence, or any burdensome load. We are to take radical action to separate ourselves from anything that hinders. Understand that he is referring to things which in and of themselves are indifferent.
What are the potential hindrances? Everything! Things within us or things without us. It may be our own desire for food, sleep, or sex. Every one of them may be legitimate or a terrible drag on our progress as believers. It may be things outside us. Possessions or relations. Bowling balls, golf clubs, bass boats, or lake lots.
The call is for action. Put them off as one would put off a garment. This is the call for effort, struggle, battle, war in the Christian life. This is the agony that leads to the ecstacy. The very word for race is the Greek word agona. It means sometimes putting the knife to life to cut away what hinders.
This call for action corrects a misconception of Christian growth. Christian growth is not a passive observance. Some would understand the life of faith to be like standing on a people-mover at the airport. You stand on the movable walkway and it just carries you along. No personal effort or strain. Nothing could be farther from the presentation of the life of faith in the New Testament. There is no measurable growth in the Christian life without the cutting away, the sacrifice, the stripping-off of many things harmless in themselves but hindering me in my race.
In Buffalo, New York, is the Calspan Corporation’s wind tunnel. Normally it is used to test the flow of pollutants in the air, but the company loans it to the down-hill racers of American’s Olympic ski team. A 200 horsepower motor generates a seventy mile-per-hour wind. The skier stands on a platform which measures the changes in drag, or wind resistance, caused by his movements. Bill Johnson, the 1984 gold medalist, mastered his technique in the wind tunnel. He was able to decrease his drag from forty-three pounds to eighteen pounds. His incredible tucking in of his body in order to cut down wind resistance won him the gold medal.
In the contest of faith we are to do a similar thing. We are to weigh every movement, relationship, investment of time and life against its drag, its resistance, its impediment to the life of faith.
Run your race in light of the assignment: “the race marked out for us.” We do not invent the Christian faith or way of life. The beginning, all the course of life, and the end are already marked out for us. We must not run wildly or in any direction we fancy, but conform to the laws of the race. Our Forerunner has already passed over the course and His steps mark the way.
Part of the assignment is to run with perseverance. A major theme of the text is the rock-ribbed commitment, “I will finish the race.” Perseverance does not always pay immediately, but it does pay ultimately. In the making of paper a great deal of preliminary processes have to be done. If you watch the pulp wood passing through process after process you are struck by how unlike paper the processed material is. Until the very last moment the pulpy substance remains wholly unfit for use as paper, and very much unlike paper, until the final shake brings the particles together and it suddenly rolls off the cylinder as a hard white surface we call paper.
This is the reason for perseverance in running the race. You may feel that you are never going to get things together. You may look at the mixture that is your life and despair at any given moment. Perseverance runs the race in light of the fact that at God’s moment it will comp together.
Fix Your Eyes
There is a higher encouragement for running the race. There is another One far above the cloud of witnesses. He is not included with them but above them. He Himself ran the race, but in a way that no other witness ever ran that race.
The apostle pleads, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.” The word contains first a prefix that means to look away from all else. We are to look at Him by looking away from all else. We are never to fix our eyes on what hinders us, the sin that besets us, the course, the other runners, or even the cloud of witnesses. We are to look away from all of them toward Him. This is a real warning about fatal distractions in the Christian life.
Some 7,000 autos collide with trains at level grade crossings each year, and 650 people are killed. There are 225,000 such crossings in the United States and only 27,000 locomotives. This means that there are far too many such accidents for the number of vehicles involved. Why does this happen? Trains are large. Research indicates that the larger an object is, the slower it appears to move. When a train and car on a collision course move toward each other, the driver really does not see the train move. This illusion causes both of them to arrive at the crossing at the same time. The driver’s eye is off the crossing and on the train in a kind of fatal hypnotism. We are to look away.
We are to fix our eyes on Jesus — not only initially but perpetually. Here the emphasis rests on His humanity, our elder brother in the family of God. We are to look on Him as One who has run the race.
We are to look on Him as the Perfect Example of faith. He is the author, leader, prince, captain of the life of faith. The faith of all others is diluted or adulterated. His is the perfect example.
His own life was lived by faith. This is never clearer than the cross. Remember our definition of faith from Hebrews 11:1 Hebrews 11:6. In His arrest, humiliation, trials, scourgings, and crucifixion there was no visible, tangible, audible evidence of anything to carry Him through. At the end he cried out, “Eli, eli lama Sabachtani — Why have yon forsaken me?” Yet for the joy set before Him He endured the cross. By faith alone He saw beyond the humiliation to the vindication.
Faith enabled Him to exchange the cross for the joy. Here the emphasis rests on the word “cross,” a manner of death reserved for subhumans, not even mentioned by the Romans, considered to be a curse from God by Jews. Yet Jesus held the shame of the cross as a thing of contempt because of the joy for which He would exchange the cross.
What was that joy? That joy was His own personal vindication. From the agony of the cross he would experience ecstacy at the right hand of God. It was the joy of world redemption. That cross would produce an apostle Paul, a church at Corinth and Rome, a world mission movement, every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. He saw us. He saw the final defeat of the evil one. Because of that He endured the cross, holding it in contempt in light of the joy about to be His.
As we run the race we are to taste His joy. Paul said, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
But as Author of our faith He is more than an example. He gives us power to copy the example. Perfect models ultimately help us little. They stand like statues that cannot speak, touch, or help. The cloud of witnesses may encourage and watch but they cannot give us what they have. A thousand aspiring literary greats can watch Shakespeare but he cannot give them what he has. We may gather around gifted teachers, artists, and athletes, and may be inspired by their examples, but they cannohe great Model, but as we look unto Him He gives us the faith we need. It pours from everything about Him. Look at Him. In t give us what they have.
This is the difference of Jesus. He not only is tHis words, deeds, life, death, resurrection, and present intercession at the right hand of God, when we look unto Him He creates the very faith He requires. The longer we look, the more He creates. The more we come to Him, the more faith He gives out. It is a fountain that flows higher and higher with more and more. It is an inexhaustible river with its source in the Lord Jesus.
He is the perfector of our faith, the finisher, the consummator. At the transfiguration they looked away from Moses and Elijah and saw Jesus only. We are to do the same — seeing Him who is invisible. At this moment walls should melt, the crowds should disappear. Look unto Jesus!

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