Soaring on lyrical thermals, the author of Hebrews piles image upon image, linking his thoughts with conjunctions that urge the reader to keep a finger in the preceding pages — all the while pressing forward for more encouragement. Finding that ten out of the thirteen chapters begin with a conjunction, this last thunderous “therefore” that launches chapter twelve sends my mind back — not merely to the previous chapter, but ALL the way back . . .
Because God has spoken;
Because He has provided an escape from the endless downward pull of sin;
Because it is still Today — but it won’t be forever;
Because there is an urgent rest offered as a gift to the people of God;
Because Jesus, High Priest and Sacrifice, has ushered in New Covenant realities that fulfill all the Old Testament shadows.
Because of ALL this . . . and “because we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” let’s lay aside the encumbrances;
let’s jettison the load of sin,
and let’s join the race!
Salvation is the starting line for everyone (there are no head starts or short cuts), and this race of faith is no stroll in the park. The Greek word used for “race” [agon] is the root for our English word agony. In this race, we’re not competing against the other runners, but against everything that deters holy living. Hebrews 12:1 reminds me that trying to run the race of faith while entertaining known sin in my life is like setting off on my daily walk with my shoe laces untied. But it’s the “weights” or “encumbrances” that have my attention today, those subtle distractions that prevent me from finishing well:
- too much sugar
- not enough sleep
- a call to a friend instead of time spent in prayer
- a five-minute “check my e-mail” that turns into a half hour of answering Facebook messages and responding to blog comments
- reading or writing before I’ve opened God’s Word for the day
Your list will likely be different from mine. I hear that the Hallmark Channel is a glorious distraction . . .
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,
Notice the “great cloud of witnesses” who surround us, and who are offered as motivation and encouragement for running our race of faith. Through the years, I’ve imagined these saints “who have gone on before” watching me, “witnessing” my walk . . . and I’ll admit that it feels a bit creepy to me.
John MacArthur explains the cloud of witnesses in this way: “They are examples, not onlookers . . .They are not looking at us; we are to look to them.” This is a helpful clarification, for their stories witness to the truth upon which we build our faith. They have run the race, and they finished it! Hebrews 11 serves as a table of contents for the Old Testament examples of people who, though not perfect by any means, put their faith in action in ways that reassure me that even though the race of faith is always strenuous — and sometimes grueling — it is run successfully only in the power of God.
When I read about Sarah’s life, I hear her calling to me from the sidelines: “Whatever seems impossible to you — even if you’ve meddled with it and messed things up — keep running! You can do it by faith! You can do it!”
Remembering Noah’s faith, I imagine him saying: “Your path may not make sense to anyone but you. This is because they have not heard God’s voice as you have. Keep listening to God. Keep running in faith!”
When my faith feels flimsy, I imagine Rahab’s encouragement: “Remember the truth that you have heard about the power of God – and ACT on it by faith! You will not be disappointed!”
The “witness” of their lives encourages me to ask hard questions about my readiness to run, faithfully and unencumbered. Hebrews 10:36 is a rebuke and a rallying cry for all who have entered the race of faith: “You have need of endurance!”
Yes, I really do.
Which of the Old Testament saints listed in Hebrews 11 speaks to your need for endurance? Do you have found-wisdom to share for laying aside the encumbrances that hinder the race? I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments below.
Only one week left in our study of The Epistle to the Hebrews, a letter to a congregation of struggling Jewish Christians written by an unknown author sometime before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. My Sunday school class and I have been landing on a few verses in each chapter with the goal of getting an overview of this fascinating and complex book. These mid-week reflections and observations are intended to initiate a deeper pondering of the week’s assignment in preparation for our discussion the following Sunday. If you’re interested in learning more, here’s last week’s blog post.
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