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, 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. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
What does this divine audience have to do with our battle with sin and the outcome of the race? How will we become any more or less motivated by playing to this crowd? Who were these people anyway? You have to read all of Hebrews 11 for the answer. One thing we discover about them: they were above the crowd before they became the crowd above.
Their acts of faith are what distinguished them, set them above the crowd…an act of faith is what God noticed and approved as righteous. They believed both that he existed and that he cared enough to respond to those who seek him. Each one of them died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believed. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world.
What do we envision on the horizons of our imaginations? Is there something out there we are intentionally pursuing? Hopefully it is Jesus. In Jesus Christ, who has become our life, we have in hand what these saints were running toward by faith. This audience is applauding our faith, this faith which makes us sojourners as opposed to squatters. Our Hebrews 11 audience is our example. They remind us that in our race there will be much to endure. While our race may become grueling through some stretches, it will really be much shorter than it may seem in those moments. And, regardless of the cost, running it will win divine applause.
Jesus too is our example. He persevered in sufferings more severe than most will ever know. In the midst of them, he overtook the joy that was set before Him. Jesus continually did the math: “Whatever I encounter is mine to conquer or endure.” In our running some of our greatest hurdles will be questions, such as: “What bearing on my race does the life of Jesus have?” “Will a mental inventory of Christ’s sufferings somehow fortify my stride?” I have tried this. I won’t say it is useless. I will only say that I think there is more to it than mere reflection and volition. I believe the Holy Spirit is integral to our race in ways the author of Hebrews assumes we understand.
God’s Spirit has breathed Life back into our mortal bodies, raising us from the dead. His Spirit rarely comes upon us as it did in the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit has now come to dwell in us. So the same Spirit, which is God’s Life, is what equipped Jesus and the Hebrews 11 crowd. He will equip us as well for the long haul of our journey. And once again, at the risk of wearing the point thin, our journey is not really that long. The Spirit’s presence has altered our nature. It is our nature which animates the thinking and the choosing of our running. It is really no longer about God’s part and our part as if they were separate tracks. In Christ, a great mystery exists. In Christ, God and man have merged. The exertion of running is now a commingled partnership with Christ as the controlling partner.
We must continually rest in Jesus’ promise that he will complete what he has begun. As our controlling partner (the head), he is the originator and perfecter of our faith. We will each be tempted to grow weary and loose heart but in our malaise we must discover, in our own experience, God’s Spirit within. It is in these moments when the winds of inspiration are absent, where temptations are so tangible, that Hebrews 12:1-3 is most helpful. It is here in the unwanted place of our doldrums that His best faith-perfecting work is advanced. Isn’t it just like God—that His ways and His thoughts are so unlike our own? While we think we may be perishing, we are in reality being perfected!
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. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Father, may you train us to run our race well, persevering by faith, putting one foot in front of the other, trusting that you are the ground beneath our feet and the very path we are traveling. However fraught our race is with discouraging circumstances lead us again to the realization that we are seated with Christ in heavenly places. Right now, in the midst of our inspirational vacuums, breathe endurance and vision into us. Succeed wildly in your mission to perfect our faith. With our eyes fixed obediently upon You, may we each cross our finish lines in full-stride. All to your glory. Amen.