1 February 2011Hebrews 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.
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?