Wednesday, October 15, 2014

RUNNING THE RACE (Hebrews Chapter 12)

Hebrews 12:1-2, 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, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The Christian life is elsewhere likened to a race in Scripture (Cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24; Galatians 5:7; Philippians 2:16).  It is not like a spirit, but a marathon in which endurance is necessary.  Endurance is “a steady determination to keep going.”  It speaks of that characteristic of a person who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and loyalty to the faith by even the greatest trials and sufferings.  The need for “endurance” is in the context of our passage (Cf. Hebrews 10:32, 36, 39; 12:1, 2, 3).

The runner in the race is encouraged by a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).  Who are these folks?  The reference is undoubtedly to those spoken of in the previous chapter, as Kent Hughes explained:  “The scene is a great coliseum. The occasion is a footrace, a distance event. The contestants include the author and the members of his flock and, by mutual faith, us. The cloud of witnesses that fills the stadium are the great spiritual athletes of the past, Hall of Faith members—every one a Gold Medal winner. They are not live witnesses of the event, but "witnesses" by the fact that their past lives bear witness to monumental, persevering faith that, like Abel's faith, "still speaks, even though he is dead" (Hebrews 11:4). (Hebrews- An Anchor for the Soul, Volume 2 Preaching the Word- R. Kent Hughes).

There are encumbrances that work to hinder the runner in the race.  Weight is obviously a big consideration.  The race runners of that day wore little or nothing.  The believer is likewise exhorted to “lay aside every weight” (Cf. Hebrews 12:1).  It is possible for the believer to be weighed down by things that are harmless in themselves but still a hindrance because they hinder progress.  Encumbrances could include such things as material possessions, family ties, love of comfort, etc.  Sadly, we might sometimes be like a man trying to run a marathon while holding a huge over-packed suitcase in each hand.  That’s no way to run in a race!

A more significant obstacle is the “sin which clings so closely” (Cf. Hebrews 12:1).  Encumbrances weigh down, sin entangles.  What kind of sin?  John MacArthur has commented on the matter:  "Obviously all sin is a hindrance to Christian living, and the reference here may be to sin in general. But use of the definite article (the sin) seems to indicate a particular sin. And if there is one particular sin that hinders the race of faith it is unbelief, doubting God. Doubting and living in faith contradict each other. Unbelief entangles the Christian’s feet so that he cannot run. It wraps itself around us so that we trip and stumble every time we try to move for the Lord, if we try at all. It easily entangles us. When we allow sin in our lives, especially unbelief, it is quite easy for Satan to keep us from running.”

One of the important keys to endurance is keeping one’s eyes fixed on the right thing.  Remember the tortoise and the hare?  The hare looked back, and not seeing the tortoise, decided that he could rest for a while.  While he was resting, the tortoise kept plodding towards the goal and eventually won the race.

We are to be “looking to Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2).  Peter looked to Jesus and walked on water and began to sink only when he looked away.  “Looking to Jesus,” the Apostle Paul “pressed on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God” (Philippians 3:13-14).  Looking to Jesus—not to ourselves, nor our fellow Christians, nor even our opponents. 

Looking unto Jesus “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).  He is the pioneer of faith, as with those pioneers of old that first established a trail that others could then follow. He is the perfecter of faith--He perfectly fulfilled the demands of faith to the completion of God's will.  William MacDonald has noted that Jesus "not only began the race but finished it triumphantly. For Him the race course stretched from heaven to Bethlehem, then on to Gethsemane and Calvary, then out of the tomb and back to heaven. At no time did He falter or turn back. He kept His eyes fixed on the coming glory when all the redeemed would be gathered with Him eternally. This enabled Him to think nothing of shame and to endure suffering and death.”  He is both the runner’s example and goal.  “May I run the race before me, strong and brave to face the foe, looking only unto Jesus, as I onward go.”

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