Summary: In Hebrews 12:1–3. we see various aspects of the race, as they are compared to the faithful life in Christ. Christ calls us to 1) Race Freely (Hebrews 12:1), 2) Race Focused (Hebrews 12:2), and 3) Race to the Finish (Hebrews 12:3)
In the ancient Isthmian games of Greece, a pedestal stood at the finish line, and on it hung a wreath—the winner’s prize. No one runs a race without some expectation of reward. The reward may be nothing more than a ribbon or a trophy or a wreath of leaves. It may be a prize worth a large amount of money. Sometimes the reward is fame and recognition. Sometimes it is a healthy body. Occasionally the race is run for the sheer exhilaration.
The Isthmian races and the race spoken of in Hebrews 12, however, were not run for exhilaration. This type of race is the agōn, the agony race, the marathon, the race that seems never to end. It is not a race you run simply for the pleasure of running. If you do not have something important to look forward to at the end of this race, you will likely not start it and will certainly not finish it.
It’s not uncommon for us to talk about the rat race, or it seems like we’re just running on a treadmill, going nowhere. In the last part of the epistle the writer is speaking to believers of the peril of remaining stationary. He is saying, “Let’s get into the race. Let’s get moving and not just drift along. We are racers.” I would say that one of the greatest dangers in the Christian life is the peril of just remaining stationary, of doing nothing (McGee, J. V. (1991). Thru the Bible commentary: The Epistles (Hebrews 8-13) (electronic ed., Vol. 52, p. 111). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.).
In Hebrews 12:1–3. we see various aspects of the race, as they are compared to the faithful life in Christ. Christ calls us to 1) Race Freely (Hebrews 12:1), 2) Race Focused (Hebrews 12:2), and 3) Race to the Finish (Hebrews 12:3)
1) Race Freely (Hebrews 12:1)
Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us (ESV)
We are all creatures of motivation. We need a reason for doing things and we need encouragement while we are doing them. One of the greatest motivations and encouragements to the unbelieving Jews, as well as to Christians, would be all the great believers from the past, their heroes, who lived the life of faith. This cloud of witnesses refers, of course, to the heroes of the faith presented in chapter 11: Noah, Abraham, Moses… the writer of Hebrews does not see these as dead men to be remembered, but living witnesses to be heard.( Phillips, R. D. (2006). Hebrews. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (p. 529). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.)
• Do we read their accounts and dismiss it as another time, or that they had different resources? Yet they had less light to run by than we have. We have the Holy Spirit resident within us, live in a country with relative safety, great resources, access to an unending supply of theological and people resources. If they accomplished what they did with what they had, what can we accomplish if we run the race?