Volume 10, Issue 3: Exegetica
Looking Unto Jesus: Hebrews 12:1-2
We must go through many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God. This was true of the readers of this epistle, who were apparently about to endure chastening from God in the form of "hostility from sinners." It was also most certainly true of the great men of faith whom the author presented in chapter 11, men who were tortured and mocked, scourged and imprisoned, stoned and sawn, tempted and slain. Despite such hardships, these men have obtained a good testimony through faith. We are now told what they testify to.
"Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Heb. 12:1). God has set before each of us a course which we must run. For each the race is different: some must run during the burning heat of persecution, others in the cool hours of relative peace. But we all must run it, and we will all experience trials and temptations along the way which hamper and discourage us. And so the author now reminds us that faithful men and women have already run the race and have run it well, whose lives attest to the worth and effect of faith. We are hindered, yet they remind us that by faith we can endure. We stumble and fall even as they did, yet they testify to us that by faith we can rise up and keep running. And not just a few, but a "great cloud of witnesses," a dense multitude, many named and a thousand others unnamed, testify to the triumph ahead for those who endure. All the defeats and victories that we experience have been experienced by them, the victories being sanctified by faith to the gaining of eternal worth, the defeats being transformed by the coming resurrection. At that time the Master of the race will give to each the reward due to each, that we may say with Paul, "I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day" (2 Tim. 4:7-8; cf. Rev. 22:12).
Those weights that slow us down, though they be not sinful in themselves, are to be laid asidethose cares, riches, and pleasures of life which we too often hold close, to our harm. The young ruler could not leave his treasures behind, and he went away sorrowful, too burdened to follow the Lord. Indeed, by our own strength none of us had the power to free ourselves from the heavy weights of our former way of life, but thankfully "the things which are impossible with men are possible with God" (Luke 18:22-28). God grants to us the faith to follow Him, and by the riches of His grace He rewards us when the race is through. Peter left all to follow Christ; he shall "receive many times more in this present time and in the age to come everlasting life" (Luke 18:30). Abraham left his father's house to dwell in tents, "for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Heb. 11:10). Moses forsook Egypt and its pleasures, "for he looked to the reward" (Heb. 11:26).
Those sins that so easily encompass and ensnare us are to be laid aside, if we have taken them up, or they are to be avoided if they are in our path. Even the strongest runner is slowed by a great burden and is severely checked in a jungle of dense vines or a forest of thickets. Lay aside your sinful unbelief; flee from immorality. John Owen writes, "Whereas the nature of this sin is to work by unbelief in departing from the living God, or the relinquishment of the gospel and the profession of it, we ought to be continually on our watch against all its actings and arguings, whereby it clogs and hinders us in our constant course of obedience."† Be on your guard against the thorns and briers of sin, "whose end is to be burned" (Heb. 6:8).
As we run the race, we must be "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 has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:2). The athlete runs best who sets his sight on the finish line, rather than being distracted by the course which is around him. We must set our sight on Jesus, who is both the goal and our supreme example. Unlike those witnesses who ran the race and "did not receive the promise" (Heb. 11:39), Jesus has finished. He ran the race, enduring the cross; the joy that was set before Him is set before us as well. Christ sat down at the right hand of God, where we will sit when our race is done: "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne" (Rev. 3:21).
We have great confidence of this reward, not because we rely on ourselves, but because we rely on Christ, "the author and finisher of our faith." All the days ordained for us were written in His book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16). He who has written our faith in His book before we were born will surely keep us and finish the work which He has begun. We did not author our faith; He is the Author. Woe to us if it be our responsibility to create the faith that is the instrument of our justification. We do not finish our faith; He is the Finisher. He alone is faithful, who will keep us to the end.