Summary: Jesus as the author and finisher of faith.
LOOKING AWAY TO JESUS
Throughout Hebrews 11, the reader has been privileged to watch a review of the race run by the great heroes of the Old Testament faith. The “therefore” at the beginning of Hebrews 12 is an emphatic particle connecting New Testament believers to the immediately preceding words: ‘that not apart from us they should be made perfect’ (cf. Hebrews 11:39-40). Now the roles are reversed, and they are watching us in our part of the relay (Hebrews 12:1).
The word for “witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) gives us our English word ‘martyr’ and reminds us that many of those listed in Hebrews 11 did pay the ultimate price, as did many of our brethren in the early church, and throughout history to this very day. Whether sealed with our blood or not, I wonder what impact our witness will have on generations yet unborn? We need never doubt that the cloud is still growing, as the Lord continues to gather His own ‘out of every tribe and kindred and tongue and nation’ (Revelation 7:9).
The idea of the witnesses “encompassing us” (Hebrews 12:1) is very much like an arena. It is very encouraging to know that those who have already finished the course are cheering us on. But since they are, our author argues, how then should we run?
Well, first, like an athlete laying aside heavy clothing, and for that matter extra body weight, we need to streamline ourselves for the race: making lifestyle choices that involve casting away anything, whether good, bad or indifferent, which might hinder us in our Christian life and witness.
Second, we must lay aside the sin that so easily surrounds us. Notice that the author includes himself in this: in fact, he is including all Christians when he speaks of “we” and “us” (Hebrews 12:1). And whilst it is tempting to individualise this and speak of “my” besetting sin (as if I only had one, and it was only about me), the context seems rather to refer to sin in general, and the church as a whole. (Mind you, the church is made up of so many individuals, so we do have a responsibility there.)
Third, we must run with perseverance. They have run their race and are in the arena cheering us on. This adds an imperative to our race: “we should run the race lying before us with endurance” (Hebrews 12:1) “looking away to… Jesus: who in consideration of the joy lying before Him endured the Cross having despised the shame” (Hebrews 12:2). The example of endurance before us has shifted from the Old Testament saints to Jesus, “who endured such contradiction against Himself from sinners” (Hebrews 12:3).
In his sermon on this text, Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones reminded us of what happened to Simon Peter when he took his eyes off Jesus whilst walking on the water. We shouldn’t be looking at the wind and the waves, or like the Apostle we will begin to sink. We should look beyond our circumstances to Jesus. We should look at the facts about Jesus. And just as Jesus looked beyond the shame of the Cross to the joy set before Him, we should look at the joy set before us in the house of many mansions (John 14:2)!
With the good Doctor, I would like to emphasise that the Greek word here is not so much “looking unto” Jesus, as “looking away to” Jesus. I would go so far as to say that we must even look away from the examples of the Old Testament heroes of the faith, and from the saints and martyrs of the Church age and focus our attention more fully on the supreme example of Jesus (cf. 1 Peter 2:21). Of course there was more to Jesus’ sufferings (cf. 1 Peter 2:24), but the writer to the Hebrews at this point wants to emphasise Jesus’ own involvement in our race.
First, He is the pioneer. Second, He is the perfecter. Of what? Of faith.
Saving faith is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8; 2 Peter 1:1), paid for by the blood of Jesus: ‘the Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth’ (Revelation 13:8). And just as surely, ‘He who has begun a good work in you will see it through to the day of Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 1:6). Jesus is ‘the beginning and the end’ (Revelation 22:13) of all things, and our helper on the way.
So, “consider Him” (Hebrews 12:3). Consider what He went through for you. Consider Him in whom our victory lies. Consider Him seated at the right hand of God (Hebrews 12:2), ever interceding on our behalf (Romans 8:34).
“Run with perseverance the race set before you, looking away to Jesus the leader and completer of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2). Amen.