Summary: Sermon 23 in a study in HEBREWS
“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, 2 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. 3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 4 You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin;” NASB
Many years ago my sister and I had a debate. It wasn’t a heated debate and it didn’t last very long. I told her that I didn’t think people already in Heaven were aware of what was going on here on earth, and she said that she thought they were, based on Hebrews 12:1.
My response was that I didn’t think I would want to know what’s going on here once I’m in Heaven; that part of the reward, to me, will be leaving all of this behind. She said that she thought once we’re in Heaven our glorified minds will have everything in perspective and it won’t be a grievous thing to know what is going on here. So I dropped it. That was the extent of the debate.
I still do not believe that people in Heaven are watching the history of this world wind down. What then, you may ask, does Hebrews 12:1 mean?
I think it means much the same thing that Jesus meant when in Matthew 11, He pronounced woes on the Jewish cities that had rejected Him, even in the face of miracles He had performed in their midst, saying that the pagan cities of Tyre, Sidon and even Sodom would testify against them in the judgment, declaring that if the miracles had been done there the people would have repented.
Now certainly, the cities of Sodom and Tyre and Sidon will not be present to testify before the Throne against Bethsaida and Capernaum. His words were intended to illuminate the deliberate disbelief and rejection of the Messiah by the Jews as a nation.
So here, in verse 1 of our text, I believe what the writer is telling us is that the life testimony of those saints who have gone before us, those of whom he says the world was not worthy because of the greatness of their faith, we should think of as a multitude of spectators, sitting in the Heavenly stadium seats which surround the arena that is this word, cheering us on and encouraging us to run the race faithfully.
It is knowing they have had their time in the arena and triumphed that should spur us on, inspiring us to give it all we’ve got, as the saying goes. But there is another reason for us to be encouraged to endure in this race also. There is the testimony of the ancient heroes, yes, but there is also the goal that requires our focus. We’ll talk about that today.
TIME TO STRIP DOWN
When the Summer Olympics were held in Greece in 2004, the news media spent a lot of time discussing the ancient games and showing us locations where those games were held and talking about the conditions those athletes faced.
Anyone who was not already aware of one bit of that history soon learned from the reporters there that in the ancient games contestants were naked. They told us that the Greek word for naked is gymnos, and the place where athletes performed was the gymnasium.
The writer to the Hebrews here, is appealing to an audience that would have had first hand knowledge of the nature of those events, and although I am certain he was not intending to advocate nor condone the practice, his audience would have had a very clear picture of the absolute freedom of movement unhindered by extra weight, wind resistance or potential entanglement he was encouraging toward, when he said, ‘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’.
The word translated ‘encumbrance’ is used only here in the New Testament, and it refers to weight or bulk. So if we’re sticking for the moment to the reference to the Olympic games, we think of the athlete laying down anything he is carrying in his hands, stripping off all garments, and taking his place on the track, ready for the signal that will start the race.
Now here is where someone might ask what sort of things would constitute an encumbrance or a snare, and of course the list would be long if we were attempt to name everything and anything to be wary of. Let the words of one of the old commentators suffice, who suggested when contemplating any business venture or pleasure to indulge in, the believer simply ask himself if it is a weight or a wing. His meaning should be clear without further comment.