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…”
The Passage Explained
Life as a Race
This life—the author of Hebrews says—is a race. Not a sprint, not a relay, not an ambling walk through a park, but a long distance race that calls for endurance and focus on the part of every participant. And just as a racer strips themselves of any excess clothing or ornamentation, so too the believer is called to lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely so that they might run the particular race that is set before them, with their eyes ever and always on their Great Savior, Captain and Hope—the risen Christ.
Preparing to Endure
The first thing to briefly notice is that we are called to lay aside not only every sin, but also every weight. I think there is significance in the distinction. The wording leads me to conclude that a weight may not necessarily be a sin. For example, there may be habits in our lives (social media and other entertainment avenues come to mind), or goals that we’ve set for ourselves, or proclivities in our nature that—while not sin—hamper us from pursuing Christ with a full, healthy, enduring stride. What might these be for you? For me? Here, as elsewhere (Hebrews 3:12-14), the author of Hebrews calls us to watch our lives and hearts closely for anything that might keep us from finishing the race.
Motivation to Endure
And the runner is given the best of motives to throw off these weights and clinging sins. Note the use of the word “also” in 12:1, this implies that the present-day saint is to follow the example and embrace the motives of the “cloud of witnesses” who have gone on before. And what was their motivation? We get a succinct answer in Moses who chose
“…rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt for he was looking to the reward.” – Hebrews 11:25-26
Notice how that passage ends, “he was looking to the reward.” Just as a runner rigorously prepares for a race because he wants to win the prize, so too Moses “[laid] aside every weight and sin” because his desire was to attain the reward that was set before him. And what was the reward in hope of which Moses endured? It was the sabbath rest of God’s people (4:11), the city founded by God (11:10), the true homeland (11:14), the heavenly country (11:16)—and ultimately—it was to be with YHWH Himself, “him who is invisible” (11:27). To enter with joy into the presence of the Holy One, to know Him as our God and for we to be His people, welcome into the peaceful rest of the Father, Son, and Spirit, this is the reward that motivated the “cloud of witnesses” to endure to the end. And this same motive drives New Testament believers as well:
“…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” – Hebrews 12:2
The reward that Moses sought now has a name: Jesus. To be like and to be with the one who is our Lord and our God is the overarching passion of every regenerate heart. And it is by the expulsive power of this greater affection that we are to rid ourselves of various lesser longings that would only distract, hamper and harm our race. And notice that we are not merely to hope in Christ, but—very practically—to be looking to Him every step of the way. The person and work of the crucified and risen Son is to be the focal point of our life. He is our North Star, He is our horizon, He is our finish line, and the eyes of our mind and heart and imagination are to be fixed on Him. It is by this steady beholding of the one who endured hell in our place that we might be with Him, it is by this beholding that we will find strength to endure mile after mile in our own race to the finish line of our Master’s joy.
So may our God and Father give us grace to throw off whatever habits, whatever routines, whatever fears, whatever desires, whatever sins are dulling the brilliance of Christ in our life and slowing the pace of our pursuit. May we, with Spirit-granted endurance, press on to know Him and make Him our own because by the offering of Himself He has perfected us and invincibly made us His own (Hosea 6:3; Philippians 3:12; Hebrews 10:14).
The Picture Explained
For this picture I tried to emphasize a single element from the text above, namely, the author’s call for an undivided focus on the risen Christ as the means and motive for our endurance in this life. As such, the entire image centers on and radiates from the form of the resurrected and victorious Lord.
In Hebrews 12:1-2, we are called to look to Christ not only as the wellspring of our eternal hope—which is implied—but also because he “endured the cross” and so sat down at the right hand of the Father. In the same way, we are called to endure whatever sufferings the path of obedience might entail as we journey on toward the prize of our Master and his own gladness. Because of this I represented Christ as holding the cross up before his face between himself and the saint. Whether in great ways or small, our pursuit of Christ will entail sharing with him in suffering (Romans 8:17, Hebrews 13:12-14). That is the way of the cross, through suffering into glory, through sorrow into joy, through striving into rest—a glory, a joy, and a rest so great that they swallow all preceding hardships into themselves.
I pictured the saint in mid stride, ferociously tearing away the clinging tendrils of sin (and whatever else might hamper his journey) in order to emphasize the zealous pursuit that Hebrews calls for. However, I wanted to be clear that this race is not and cannot be run in our own strength. Notice that the runner is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit—pictured as a fiery dove. Only by the power and working of the indwelling Spirit are we able to overcome sin in our lives (Romans 8:13-14), and only in the Spirit can we choose Christ over the sinful desires of our old nature (Galatians 5:16-17). Yes, we must lay aside ever weight and sin and run with endurance as we look to Christ, but we can only do this by the grace of God in the power of the Holy Spirit—may He give us grace to do so more and more!