Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. (NET)
In chapter 11, the writer of Hebrews showed us what faith looks like. Faith is being certain in the unseen things, particularly, that God exists and that God rewards those who diligently seek him. The writer has shown us that these heroes had that kind of faith. They endured great tragedy, trials, and loss knowing that their faith was in the better country that God promised. They did not have their eyes and hearts in this world, but desired things better than what we can have here.
Realizing that we have these witnesses of faith, we ought to be motivated to live our lives in the way that they did. These people recorded in chapter 11 are witnesses to us about what it looks like to have faith. They show us what God approved faith looks like. These people have shown us the life of faith that can be lived. Their faithfulness is our encouragement. They were able to run the race and finish. We are able to run this race and finish. I think it is important to consider that the object of this race of faith is to finish. It is not about running fast, but running to finish. We need to run the race well. What do we need to do to run this race well so that we can finish? The writer tells us some necessary instructions for running the race.
Let us lay aside every weight.
Notice the writer is not talking about sin at this point. He will address the sin that clings to us in just a moment. Rather, he is concerned about things that are not sin but are weighing us down. What things are weighing you down and keeping you from running the race to finish? There are many things that are not sinful that we make sinful because they are hindering us from having the faith demanded by God. Money can weigh us down. There is nothing sinful about having money. We read about rich, godly people in the scriptures. On the other hand, we are strongly warned about money because it can so easily cause us to lose our faith. So many people think that their desire for money is normal and acceptable. Yet this can be the very weight that is slowing us down. We have a focus on money rather than the heavenly country. Remember that we read about Moses who turned down the fleeting pleasures of wealth and sin because he regarded suffering with Christ to be greater wealth (11:25-26).
What about our comforts and ease? We have become a very comfortable society and we demand that we have our hobbies and pleasures that we can enjoy. So we spend our time watching TV, listening to music, surfing the internet, reading books, and the like. Nothing that we enjoy to unwind and relax is sinful to itself. But these things can become weights that slow us down on our race. These are the things that block the building of our faith because we choose these points of relaxation rather than studying our bibles. We relax rather than pray. We chill out on the couch rather than read the bible. We spend all of our time doing everything else but deepening our faith. So then we think we do not have time to teach children’s bible classes because we are spending a significant portion of our time doing things that are blocking our race of faith. No, you are doing anything sinful. But the things you are doing are acting like heavy weights which are slowing you down in the race. Even our families can get in the way of our service to God. We may have a weak spouse or a spouse that does not want us worshiping God. We have to fight through that problem, realizing that God comes first, before being pleasing to our family.
Too often we are asking why we cannot do something as a Christian. Often we are simply trying to justify ourselves for the various actions that we want to engage. But let us no longer ask why we cannot do something. Rather, we need to ask, “will this help me run the race?” So do not ask, “is it wrong if I…” and fill in the blank. Ask if it will help you run the race.
Get rid of the sin that clings so closely.
We need to cast off sin. This should be an obvious instruction but I do not know that we always realize that sin is slowing us down in this race. Sin is stopping you from running this race. Sin causes interference and are obstacles on our path. What are the sins that we are not letting go? Sexual immorality, anger, lying, selfishness, greed, and such ruin our walk with God. Admit your addictions and get help. You must stop sinning. We are to be dead to sin and alive to Jesus. We cannot continue in sin, thinking that we are acceptable to God. Let us be reminded of the warning that the writer of Hebrews gave us previously.
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26-27; ESV)
Run the race with endurance.
The writer already pointed out in Hebrews 10:36 that we have need of endurance. The race that has been set out before requires endurance. Who in chapter 11 did not need endurance for the race set before them? All of them needed endurance! Did Abraham need endurance? He most certainly did need endurance. We need endurance also if we are going to finish this race of faith. So how can we have this athletic discipline necessary to finish the race? The writer of Hebrews gives us the answer.
Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (NET)
The answer is to get our eyes on Jesus. We need to get our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. This is a call for us to have a determined focus. We are to be looking at Jesus and nothing else! We are not to have divided attention.
No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Luke 16:13; ESV)
Too often we are being distracted by the world. We are being distracted by all of these things that are not necessarily sinful, but they are taking our attention away from Jesus. The writer of Hebrews is calling for us to have a determined focus. Get your eyes and Jesus and off of sin! Get your eyes on Jesus and off of possessions! Get your eyes on Jesus and off of work! Get your eyes on Jesus and off of money! What are our minds focused on? What are we looking at when we fix our eyes on Jesus?
(1) What Jesus Did
Jesus is described as the pioneer and the perfecter of our faith. We have seen this description used before by the writer of Hebrews. In Hebrews 2:10 we see the same language. Recall that when we studied that text we noted that the likely meaning is that Jesus is our trailblazer. Jesus has blazed the path for us to follow. We are not going down an unknown road. We are going down the road that Jesus has blazed for us. He is our pioneer, our leader, who has led the way of faith for us. Not only this, but by following Jesus he will bring our faith to completion. Jesus has shown us the road we need to walk.
(2) How Jesus Endured
How did Jesus make it? Jesus made it the same way that those in Hebrews 11 made it. They had their eyes fixed on the promised reward, not here on earth. Jesus did the same. What does the text say that Jesus was focused upon? He was focused on the joy set before him. Jesus did not look at the physical, but the goal. He looked to the purpose. Jesus was able to endure because he saw the joy that was set before him. That is how Jesus endured the cross. He held the shame of the cross in no regard. He was able to look through the cross. He did not just simply see the cross and consider its weight and meaning. He could look beyond the cross. He could see the joy of the salvation that would be offered by his act. He did not focus on the temporary suffering of the cross. He did not focus on the mocking and shame of the cross. He counted these earthly things as nothing. He disregarded those things and saw the joy set before.
This is how we are to endure our suffering. Do not focus on the suffering. Fix your eyes on Jesus. See through the suffering and see the joy that will come from having endurance. We have a greater promise given to us that we are able to place our hope upon.
Was Jesus right to see through the cross? Yes, because God kept his promise by exalting Jesus to the right hand of the throne of God. Jesus work was accomplished and he was rewarded for his faith. God keeps his promises. The same thing is true for us. It is right for us to see through the suffering, knowing that God keeps his promises and we have a better country and better reward waiting for us.