“Wherefore seeing we also are encompassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1, 2.
A cloud of witnesses.
They are with us every day. They stand along the way, as it were, spurring us on by showing to us the power of faith and what faith does for the believer.
No, not in the sense that they look down from heaven, watching us, and in that way spurring us on. They are not onlookers. More than likely they are not even aware of us, since they enjoy the perfection of glorifying God with their whole being.
But “Abel being dead, yet speaketh.” (Hebrews 11:4) We have the record of his faith and of what that faith did for him in the pages of the Scriptures, preserved for us as a witness, along with the other believers of the old dispensation, urging us on to be faithful unto death. They lived by faith. They persevered, and now they experience the reward of faith as they rejoice in the fullness of the glory of God before the throne.
Abel who died for his faith, Enoch who walked with God, Noah who built an ark, assured that God would come with His judgment upon the world, Abraham who offered up his son, Moses who esteemed the suffering with the people of God greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt, and so many more have triumphed through faith, saved by grace, and now are recorded in Scripture as an incentive to us.
A race is set before us.
The figure of a race, so often used in Scripture, reminds us of three things:
There is a certain course that must be run. An athlete, whether he engages in running or in some other sport, has certain skills that he develops, a certain program that he must carry out with all his ability and in great precision.
This requires that every effort, every ounce of strength must be used to run his race or carry out his planned program. Athletes who train for the Olympics will spend eight hours a day, every day for a whole year to become thoroughly fit and to act with precision.
Each has his or her own goal upon which all attention is focused. They seek what Scripture calls “an earthly crown.”
So we also have a race to run. A faith venture.
Faith is that spiritual gift whereby we are united to Christ by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, whereby we receive a spiritual heart to love God, a spiritual mind to want to serve Him, a spiritual eye to see and a spiritual ear to hear Him as He reveals Himself to us through the Scriptures.
God has given to us certain gifts and talents, a certain place in life, a certain course that we must run to attain the goal of everlasting life with Christ in the new creation. Although our “tracks” may occasionally run parallel to each other, you have your race to run, even as your peers have theirs. We have our divine calling.
We must put forth every effort, strain every muscle, place heart and soul in the race. Athletes want to be physically at their best, watching what they eat and drink, making sure they get the proper amount of sleep, avoiding anything that might be a hindrance to them. In one word, their whole life is focused on the sport they engage in. How much more should we make use of the gifts and talents God has entrusted to us, and concentrate all our lives on the race that God set before us.
And just as an athlete seeks an earthly, perishable crown, so we must seek an eternal, heavenly crown, which the righteous Judge will give us, along with all those who love His appearance. (II Tim. 4:7, 8)
It is a matter of priorities.
This is not cast in the form of an admonition: Do this. But it is the determination of believers, who together realize their calling as stewards in God’s house. We speak of our conviction, as an incentive and encouragement to one another to be faithful unto death.
This requires perseverance.
The text says, “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience.”
When he is training for the race a runner will attach weights to his ankles to strengthen his leg muscles. But when he enters the contest he leaves those weights behind. A hiker does not burden himself with a backpack filled with non-essentials. He travels as light as possible. The child of God sets his heart and mind on the spiritual race before him. Earthly gains and success, earthly friends and pleasures are not his primary concern. They must not interfere with his chief ambition. He chooses his life task, his life mate and his friends with the purpose that they may by advantageous to him as he travels his course. He seeks first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness in the confidence that God will add all other things unto him. By God’s grace he keeps first things first, assured that all things work together for good for those who fear God.
There is a Dutch saying, which freely translated, says:
Away, worldly attractions, my goal is not here but in heaven.
Away, earthly lusts, I cannot tarry in the devil’s domain.
Impediments! Sin so easily besets us! We dread scorn and mockery. Joining “the crowd” appeals to us. But friends who would lure us off our course are not good friends. The first step in the wrong direction, the first experiment with sin can prove to be disastrous. Bad habits are a power that destroys us.
Our sinful nature is our worst enemy. It is because of the sin that wars in our members that the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life so readily become a temptation for us. Sin blinds our eyes, stops up our ears, weakens our zeal, and brings untold misery.
Therefore to keep on the course requires daily prayer, a deep awareness of our own weaknesses and of the need for God’s grace to keep our spiritual eye bright, our spiritual ear alert, and our determination to live by faith unfalteringly, even unto the end.
Perseverance requires patience. We must run and not grow weary. The course is not always smooth, nor always easy to run. Opponents tend to run interference, or even to cast roadblocks on our way. The powers of darkness are out to rob us of our crown. Patience is the spiritual ability to endure temptation, to be faithful even unto death. We think of Abel who became a martyr, or of Moses who endured, not fearing the wrath of the king.
The “now” generation wants their good things in this life. They live only for the moment with their faces down toward the ground, rather than keeping their heads up. Many want “all this” and heaven, too. The true runner keeps his eye on the goal.
Looking unto Jesus.
We must realize that if our running and our perseverance depended even to the smallest degree upon us, we would never make it. We must not look to self, but to Jesus.
His name means Savior. He is the Author of our faith, for He is the Christ, the Son of God who is come into our flesh to save us from our sins.
He ran His race, even in the face of greater opposition than you and I will ever know. He was hated, mocked, spit upon, beaten with many stripes, and finally crucified. He suffered unto death. We have not yet experienced anything like that. Besides that, He was forsaken of God in deep, horrible darkness of utter isolation, to merit for us the right to eternal life, yes, even to run the race.
He had His eye fixed upon the goal, the glory promised Him, attained only through a faithful surrender to the will of His heavenly Father. He never faltered. As the Captain of our salvation He carried His cross, passed through death and the grave, and entered into glory, to bring with Him many sons and daughters to share this glory with Him.
He is the Author of our faith, blessing us out of heaven; but also the Finisher, for He who has begun a good work in us will surely finish it. He not only gives us the ability to believe, but the grace to run in faith even unto the end.
It is all of Him, that no flesh may glory before Him.
Let us look to Jesus! He stands at the end of the way with our victor’s crown in His hand, urging us on with the assurance: “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life.”