Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2 NRSV)
The writer of Hebrews declares that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Who are the witnesses that the author is speaking about? Chapter 11 has been about all the people who had the faith to not look for the reward in this life but had the faith that looked upward. The testimony of these witnesses of faith is that any amount of rejection or suffering from the world is worth it because of the reward and approval that lies ahead. All of them died in faith without receiving what was promised (11:13), but lived for the approval of God. Now these people of faith are pictured as spectators watching our walk with God. It is interesting that the author does not merely tell us follow the example of these witnesses. Rather, he tells us that we are surrounded by them. They are pictured as an encouragement to our faith. Now the author is going to tell us what we must do because we see what these witnesses of faith have done.
Cast Aside All Weights (12:1)
You will notice in verse 1 that the author describes what we are doing with Jesus as a race. He says to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” We are in a race and we are called to run the race with endurance. We are to run with endurance like these people of faith did before us. Now we are surrounded by these people of faith who ran with endurance and we are to run with endurance also. So how do we run with race with endurance?
First, the author pictures that there are things that are weighing us down while we run this race. Now think about this for a moment. Imagine trying to run a marathon while carrying a bunch of excess weight. Imagine trying to run a race in heavy jeans, a parka, weights strapped on your ankles, and dumbbells in your hands. How well are you going to run the race? We realize that cannot run the race with endurance if we are carrying and wearing a bunch of things that are not helpful for running a race. Yet when it comes to running our spiritual race with Jesus, this can be exactly what we are doing. We need to cast off all the weights in our lives. We are to cast off all the burdens and baggage that we are dragging in life.
There are two things that the author says that we are carrying that we need to get rid of. We need to get rid of every weight and every hinderance that we are carrying. We need to remove the excess baggage. Now I want us to notice that he is not talking about sins yet. He will speak about sins in a moment. Rather, the author is not talking about sins but just things in life that you are carrying that are getting in the way of running the race well. We carry things that make running the race with endurance difficult or impossible. Think about what can be slowing you down in this race. Jesus described some of things that we carry that keep us from running the race well when he told the parable of the sower.
As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. (Matthew 13:22 ESV)
Think about how the things of the world just slow us down. Think about how the cares of the world are weights in our lives. Think about how riches weigh us down. It is not that everything in the world is sinful. But there are so many things that keep us weighed down so that we do not run the race well. I want you to take a moment and just think about what is weighing you down. What is keeping you from a better prayer life? What is keeping you from reading God’s word every day? What is keeping you from a deeper love for Jesus? What is holding you back from worship? It is not that our schedules or our technology is a sin. But it can just be the extra weights in our lives that keep us from running with endurance. Think about all the worries we carry because we will not entrust them to the Lord. So we worry and we do not run with endurance. Look at life and do not ask if what you are doing is a sin. Ask yourself if it helps you run the race.
Next the author tells us to cast off the sin that so closely clings to us. There are two ways I want us to look at this declaration. First, our sins keep us from running with endurance. We cannot run with Jesus and keep holding on to these sins. The sins that we choose to commit day after day are tripping us up from running well. There is a reason that Jesus taught us to cut off anything that causes us to sin (cf. Matthew 5:29-30). Sins are not just things that we are doing wrong. Every sin is just another weight we are carrying as we try to run the race with endurance. Cast off those sins that are clinging so closely. Do not allow those sins to hold on to you. You can cast off those sins.
The second way I want us to look at these sins that cling so closely to us is to think about the sins that we have asked God to forgive but we still carry them. We have come to God with a sorrowful heart, confessing our sins to him and yet we still carry the guilt of our sins. Guilt for our forgiven sins is an unnecessary weight. Now, guilt for unforgiven sins is a good weight to have and we need to go to God immediately for our unforgiven, unconfessed, unrepentant sins. But after we have done that, we are not supposed to go on kicking ourselves for our forgiven sins. God forgave them. Do not carry those burdens any more. When guilt rises up, we can tell that guilt that God has forgiven us of that so we do not need that weight. Do not carry the weight of forgiven sins. You are forgiven. Or do we not trust that God has forgiven us? Are we going to tell God that we do not believe that he has the power to forgive us and that is why we continue to carry the weight of guilt? So we need to look at our lives and acknowledge what weights and sins are clinging to us and get them out of our lives so that we can run the race with endurance.
Look To Jesus (12:2)
The author next tells that to run the race with endurance that we need to look to Jesus. Our focus while running must be on Jesus if we are going to be successful. We cannot run with endurance if we are looking anywhere else but Jesus. We need to ask ourselves what we are looking at in this life? What is our life focus? What are we paying attention to? It is easy to look at a lot of things in this life while we run this race and we get distracted and forget where we are running. I get distracted easy. I catch things out of the corner of my eye. I go to a room to get something and completely forget why I went into the room because I get distracted. God is concerned that we are going to be distracted in this life race. We start looking at other things and forget to put our eyes on Jesus. What is interesting to me is that the things that distract us are the things we talked about above: all the weights of this life. We focus on the things of this life and forget where we are going. We focus on this life and stop looking at Jesus. To run with endurance the race that is before us, we must focus our eyes on Jesus only. We cannot focus on other people or other things. When we focus on other people, then our faith will fail. When we are consumed by what others are doing to us or not doing for us, then our faith will fail. When we focus on the things of this life, our faith will fail. The faith we need will only come from fixing our eyes on Jesus.
What are we supposed to look at exactly when we look at Jesus? The rest of Hebrews 12:2 says that we are looking to Jesus, “who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” So what are we supposed to see when we see Jesus? The author tells us to look at how Jesus endured. How did Jesus endure the cross? How did he disregard the horrifying shame that he would experience with the cross? He looked at the joy that was before him. Jesus endured the present by looking at the joy to come. This was the whole point of chapter 11. None of the people of faith received what was promised in this life. But they looked ahead to the joy that was to come. Jesus is the ultimate model. He endured the cross and disregarded its shame because he saw the joy that was set before him and he attained that joy. He took his seat at God’s right hand. What he was looking for came to fruition. He looked to the joy that was set before him.
It matters what we focus on. What we focus on is what you will get more of. If you focus on all your problems in this life then all you are going to see are the problems in this life. If you focus on how this life is not what you thought it would be then all you are going to see is depression and disappointment. If you focus on all your hurts then all you are going to do is feel pain and suffering every day. If you focus on being negative then all you are going to have is a life of negativity. It matters what we focus on. Jesus did not focus on the cross. Jesus did not focus on the shame. Jesus focused on the joy that was set before him. The people of faith focused on what was promised and not what they had not received. They all looked forward to the joy to come.
I think this is part of our problem. Do we look at what lies ahead of us as the greatest joy that we could possibly experience? There is a reason God tells us about eternity. God wants us to focus on it. God wants us to focus on the joy that we will experience when we are forever in his presence. Do not focus on this life. Focus on Jesus. Focus on the joy of being with him. Focus on what he is offering to each of us. Now the author of Hebrews will give us a little more to help us have the enduring faith we need.
For Your Endurance (12:3)
Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. (Hebrews 12:3 NRSV)
I love verse 3. Please listen to what the author of Hebrews just said to each of us. Jesus endured the hostility of sinners against him so that we would not grow weary or lose heart. Jesus went through what he went through so that we would not give up. The cross of Jesus happened so that we would not quit. This is the other thing we are to fix our eyes on when we look to Jesus. See that everything Jesus did was so that you would not quit. Do not grow weary. Do not lose heart.
Jesus wants us to have a burden free faith. Jesus wants us to cast away all the burdens that we are carry. Jesus wants us to cast off the sins that cling so closely to us. Jesus wants us to see the joy that lies ahead through his death on the cross so that we would not give up. The cross of Jesus is why we can have burden free faith. Let us keep our eyes on Jesus and the joy that lies ahead.