"Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance (perseverance) the race that is set before us." The author/coach of Hebrews now brings us to the application of what we have learned from the OT witnesses of faith seen in Hebrews 11. This "cloud of witnesses" are not looking at us and our faith race but calling us to look at their example of faith and saying, "come on, follow us as we follow Him (Jesus) and be a witness for Jesus to those who follow you." (See Heb. 13:7-8) The author says this with much zeal and with much humility as he exhorts himself along with us. He reminds us that salvation is the starting line not the finish line and calls us to do the works for which God saved us. "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Eph. 2:10) We all like the privileges of salvation (God's love, forgiveness of sin and eternal life) but may resist the responsibility of salvation (accountability to God for our works). We are saved by grace (not works) but we are judged and rewarded for our works. (1 Cor. 3:10-15)
"Let us also lay aside every encumbrance." These encumbrances or weights are not necessarily sins but things that slow us down or even cause some to drop out. It is like taking off extra garments before the race. A new believer asked his pastor if he had to give up these things and the pastor said, "Not if you don't want to win." "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever." (1 Cor. 9:24-25; Also see Luke 14:33)
"And the sin which so easily entangles us." The image in the Greek of the sin that entangles is like an octopus wrapped around our legs and body. Imagine running a marathon (it is not a 50 yard dash) with an octopus wrapped around you. Again, if we are serious about winning (receiving Jesus' "Well done" and eternal rewards) we will deal drastically with sin even as Jesus exhorted us to do. (Matt. 5:29-30) Some say that the sin referred to here is the great sin of unbelief. "And he did not many mighty works there, because of their unbelief." (Matthew 13:58). This is the opposite of faith. And the eternal God constantly calls us to put our hopes in eternity and not this world. Failure to do this (unbelief) is the source of countless sins. ["What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. The most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well. It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb the whole structure must sooner or later collapse. It is my opinion that the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the twentieth century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God and actually to constitute for professed believers something amounting to a moral calamity. The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer, Chapter 1]
"And let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." The Greek word for "race" is "agon" (like agony) and it means conflict, fight, or contention. Again the faith race is a marathon and requires endurance. It hurts our flesh and pride (focus on self) and is designed by God to do so. "Enter through the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and spacious and broad is the way that leads away to destruction, and many are those who are entering through it. But the gate is narrow (contracted by pressure) and the way is straitened and compressed that leads away to life, and few are those who find it." (Matt. 7:13-14) And each person's race is uniquely designed by God, so we should never compare our race (trials, blessings, etc.) to anyone else. (See 1 Cor. 4:7; 2 Cor. 10:12)
"Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith." The OT saints in Hebrews 11 are great examples for us but Jesus (the Man) is the perfect example of living by faith from start (author) to finish (perfecter/finisher). Likewise our faith race has a beginning and end also and Jesus is with us all the way. The idea of fixing our eyes on Jesus or looking at Him is an exclusive look, i.e., to look away from everything else and only look at Him. To continually stare at Him until He overwhelms us and captivates us with His Beauty and Majesty. (Song of Songs 5:10-16) We are to look at Him more than our own sins and failures (self-condemnation). We are to look at Him more than the things of this world – tv., news, sports, the market, entertainment, politics, keeping up with the Joneses, etc., etc., etc. We are to look at Him more than our circumstances, both trials and blessings (which may lead to pride). Peter was doing fine as he walked on water until he took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the waves (trials of life). He lost his faith and was sinking fast but wisely cried out to Jesus to save Him. We can fix our eyes on Jesus by reading God's Word (hearing from God), through prayer (talking to God), through fellowship in the Holy Spirit with other believers where Jesus is the center of our relating, and through serving Jesus as we serve His people.
"Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." We are to look at His motivations to please and glorify the Father and to rescue His lost children (salvation) to inspire us to do the same as we endure our crosses and like Jesus and Paul say, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time (this present life) are not worth being compared with the glory that is about to be revealed to us and in us and for us and conferred on us!" (Rom.8:18 – Amp.)
"For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin." Now the picture changes from running a marathon with endurance to fighting against sin with dogged determination. Most commentators say this is a picture of Jesus shedding His blood on the cross for our sins. Some say it pictures Jesus sweating drops of blood at Gethsemane where He was tempted to not do the Father's will ("striving against sin") and go to the cross. "And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. (Luke 22:44) This is a condition called hematidrosis when a person is experiencing extreme stress often related to facing death. The point the author of Hebrews is making is that we, like Jesus, are called to be willing to suffer to resist the temptation to sin. And none of us will ever have to suffer like our Lord did. "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." (Hebrews 2:18)
"We cry too often to be delivered from the punishment, instead of the sin that lies behind it. We are anxious to escape from the things that cause us pain rather than from the things that cause God pain." G. Campbell Morgan
God trains us for the race. Next week we will look at how our Father trains us through trials and hardships so we will finish well. (Hebrews 12:5-11)
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1. Why is perseverance usually not at the top of the list of qualities we most admire in people and yet it is strongly commended by the Lord?
2. What are your faith-race goals?
3. What are the weights that God may be calling you to lay aside? And what are the entangling sins in your life (the octopus wrapped around your legs and body) that you need to lay aside?
4. We are to look at Jesus more than our own sins and failures (self-condemnation), this world – tv., news, sports, the market, entertainment, politics, keeping up with the Joneses, and our circumstances both trials and blessings. Which of these distract you the most and what can you do about it?
5. "For the joy set before Him endured the cross"; what truly motivates you to love, obey and even suffer for the Lord?
6. Read the statement from G. Campbell Morgan above and answer this question: Which bothers me the most; my sins or the painful consequences of my sins?