1 February 2011

Hebrews 12:1-4

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith." (vv. 1-2a)


Have you ever been watched by a vast crowd? At a graduation or wedding, a sporting event or concert? It can be unnerving, but if the crowd is friendly, on your side and cheering you on, then it can be very heartening and encouraging. Here the writer of this letter to weary Christians conjures up that image of a stadium in which all readers (whether 1st century or 21st century) become the contestants, trying to throw off the burdens which slow them down and impede their progress, and lay aside the sin which entangles their lives and threatens to trip them up, and to persevere to the end of the race. In this endeavour, we are urged on by "witnesses" - those who both watch and encourage our progress and who also, by their lives, bear witness to the power of faith in God. 

However, whilst the cheers of the crowd may spur the athletes on, they cannot provide the resources needed for contestants to complete the course; for that, the writer suggests, we must look to Jesus. Jesus is the supreme example of endurance; for he endured the cross with all its pain, humiliation and shame. Crucifixion was not only a cruel, lingering form of execution, it was also exposed, public and degrading, especially for Jews who might recall words of the law "for anyone hung on a tree is under God's curse" (Deuteronomy 21:23). This Jesus bore, and became victorious over, through the joy of resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God. 

Therefore Jesus is first the "pioneer" of a Christian's faith - the one who blazes the trail, who even goes through death itself so that all can follow him in confidence. He is also the "perfecter" of faith, the one who can provide the strength and endurance which re-fuel the Christian who is tempted to give up or lose heart. 

However far you have gone in your suffering, the writer tells the readers of this letter, Christ has gone further. So today's reason to be faithful is simple - Look to Jesus. 

To Ponder

When in your life have you felt the support of the "great cloud of witnesses"? What was it like?

How does the idea that Christ has pioneered a way for us, even to the cross, change how you feel about death?

How do you go about laying aside weight and sin in order to run the race better?

Bible notes author

Jill Baker

Jill Baker lives in Glasgow and is glad to be part of the small but distinctive Methodist Church in Scotland. She is a local preacher and local preachers’ tutor in the Strathclyde Circuit, where her husband Andrew is superintendent minister. For Jill, the past 20 years have included all sorts of roles within Methodism – further afield (as a mission partner in the South Caribbean) and closer to home (with WFMUCW, MWiB, leading pilgrimages and as part of various committees and groups) and is currently the Vice-President of the Conference 2017/2018. When not engaged in these ways, Jill enjoys walking in the beautiful mountains of Scotland, gardening and writing; she blogs at www.northoftheborder.wordpress.com and "Thanks, Peter God", her book about the life of her son, Peter, who died in 2012, was published in 2016.