Summary: This short talk given at a Communion service during Holy Week asks three questions: What must we reject, how must we run and where must we look?
The New Testament scholar Raymond Brown wrote this: “Using vivid athletic imagery the author [of Hebrews] tells his readers what they must reject, how they must run and where they must look.”
1: What we must reject: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (12:1a). ‘Everything that hinders’ is literally a heavy weight or an excessive load. It is weighing us down, slowing us down, holding us back, or hampering the race of faith. So if certain books, particular television programmes, poor habits, bad attitudes or (perhaps) spending too much time with someone is weighing us down, then we should deal with it – appropriately! Throw it off so that you can travel light!
‘Sin that so easily entangles’ is something that clings too closely. It causes us to trip, to stumble and even to fall and should be cast off like an athletes track suit.
2: How we must run: “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (12:1b). Perseverance is endurance, and it is the same endurance that appears in verse 2 where we are reminded that “for the joy set before him [Jesus] endured the cross”. Being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (12:1) in a race that is marked out for us makes me think about Roger Bannister being cheered on by a stadium full of people when he became the first man to run a mile in under 4 minutes. Training, persistence, sweat, endurance, effort and focused are words that spring to mind.
And in verse 3 we are encouraged to “not grow weary and lose heart.” All sorts of pressures, sins, circumstances of life and perhaps a loss of perspective can cause us to grow weary and to lose heart; but like Roger Bannister we have a goal ahead of us. There is a race to finish. There is a finish line to cross; and only then is it OK to lay ourselves down.
3: Where we must look: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith” (12:2). Yes, we’re surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and the author of Hebrews mentions Abel (11:3), Noah (11:7), Abraham (11:8), and Moses (11:24) plus several others; but we are not called to fix our eyes upon them! So too we are not called to fix our eyes upon modern day saints, sages and superstars. Yes, they can encourage us, they can cheer us on, and they can set us an example and help us; but we are to fix our eyes upon Jesus and upon Jesus alone!
He is the author of our faith. He is the writer of our story. Once we become disciples of Jesus he is the author, he is the pen and he is the ink. We are the page he writes upon.
He is also the perfector of our faith. When we are weak and struggling to throw off heavy weights or sin that entangles, it is Jesus who can help us.
“Consider Him who endured so much opposition from sinful men” (12:3). The Christian life has wonderful promises and blessings, some of which are for this life and some of which are for the future; but the Christian life is also a costly one. Jesus gave up his place in glory, endured verbal and physical abuse and in the end died upon the cross as if he was a criminal. That’s what it cost him. “Consider him”. Consider what it cost him. Consider what it may cost you. He went to the cross for you and me and for the whole world. In return, what are we doing on earth, for Christ’s sake?