If the Apostle Paul were alive today he would be a huge sports fan. Why? because several athletic references in his letters indicate his interest in sports. Of course, both the Greeks and Romans were keenly interested in athletic contests, not only for their physical well-being, but also for the honor of their towns and countries. It was a patriotic thing to be a good athlete and to bring glory to your country. The writer of Hebrews combined these two themes of athletics and citizenship in this important twelfth chapter. First the writer pictures the race, and then emphasizes citizenship in the heavenly city. In the minds of his readers, these two themes would go together; for no one could take part in the official games unless he was a citizen of the nation. The one theme that runs through this chapter is endurance. The Jewish believers who received this letter were getting weary and wanted to give up; but the writer encouraged them to keep moving forward in their Christian lives. He pointed out three divine resources that encouraged a Christian to keep going when the situation is difficult.
Today we are going to look at the first resource; the example of the Son of God. There are three approaches that are used in these verses (vv. 1-4) to encourage us in the Christian race. Look around at the winners (v. 1a): “The great cloud of witnesses” was introduced in Hebrews 11. They are the heroes of the faith that bear witness to us that God can see us through. God bore witness to them and they are bearing witness now to us. One of the best ways to develop endurance and encouragement is to get to know the godly men and women of the Old Testament who ran the race and won.
Look at yourself (v. 1b): A baseball player who swings a bat with a heavy metal collar on it before he steps to the plate helps him prepare for the fast pitches. Too much weight would tax one’s endurance. What are the “weights” that we should remove so that we might win the race; everything that hinders our progress? They might be even “good things” in the eyes of others. A winning athlete does not choose between the good and the bad; he chooses between the better and the best. We should also get rid of “the sin that so easily entangles” (v.1). While he does not name any specific sin, the writer was probably referring to the sin of unbelief. It is unbelief that hinders us from entering into our spiritual inheritance in Christ. The phrase “by faith” is used twenty-one times in Hebrews 11, indicating that it is faith in Christ that enables us to endure.
Look at Jesus Christ (vv. 2-4): “Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith.” It was in “looking to Him” that we were saved, for to look means “to trust.” “Looking unto Jesus” describes an attitude of faith and not just a single act. When our Lord was here on earth, He lived by faith. The mystery of His divine and human natures is too profound for us to understand fully, but we do know that He had to trust His Father in heaven as He lived day by day. The fact that Jesus prayed is evidence that He lived by faith. Our Lord endured far more than did any of the heroes of faith named in Hebrews 11, and therefore He is a perfect example for us to follow.
What was it that enabled our Lord to endure the cross? Please keep in mind that, during His ministry on earth, our Lord did not use His divine powers for His own personal needs. Satan tempted Him to do this (Matt. 4:1-4), but Jesus refused. It was our Lord’s faith that enabled Him to endure. He kept the eye of faith on “the joy that was set before Him.” He knew that He would come out of the tomb alive. Throughout this epistle, the writer emphasized the importance of the future hope. His readers were prone to look back and wanted to go back, but he encouraged them to follow Christ’s example and look ahead by faith. Since Christ is the “author and finisher of our faith,” trusting Him releases His power in our lives. Christ is both the exemplar and the enabler! As we see Him in the Word and yield to His Spirit, He increases our faith and enables us to run the race.
Hebrews 12:1-4 Reflection Questions:
Have you ever wanted to give up when the life gets really difficult? How did you handle it?
During hard times (financial, physical, illness, etc.), what do you look to for encouragement?
Which of the three approaches do you lean towards? Can you see the need for all three?