Like many Bible-loving Christians, I have lots of favorite passages of scripture, depending on the need of the moment. A favorite passage to help explain the gospel, a favorite to express the need for diligent study, etc. Just as a doctor has a whole bag of tricks, tools and medicines to help what ails his patient, God’s word offers many cures for many problems. When it comes to general discouragement, my favorite passage is Hebrews 12:1,2. I’m a visual person and this one is loaded with visual aids to help boost a falling spirit. It gives me a mental image rich with detail that I can hang onto and draw from when things start to fall in. Let me show you what I mean…
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 the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, 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. Hebrews 12:1,2
The “therefore” at the beginning tells us we’ve gotten in on the conclusion of a thought. Many a Bible teacher has said, “When you see a ‘therefore,’ ya gotta find out what it’s there for.” This “therefore” draws on the entire previous chapter. In Hebrews 11, we find what is commonly called “The Roll Call of the Faithful.” The Hebrew writer names names for verse after verse, praising the active faith of Abel (11:4) down through Samuel and the prophets (11:32). In 11:32 the writer says “And what more shall I say? For time will fail me…” You can almost hear the amazement as he moves on from naming specific individuals to describing the mighty deeds and feats of endurance whose details would fill his time (11:32-38). Then we see the final bit of amazement in verses 39 & 40: they didn’t even receive what was promised because God chose to include us (Christians) in what He provided. Here is where we pick up the discussion with Hebrews 12:1,2.
The Hebrew writer has given us an entire chapter of faithful examples. Here, he refers to them as a “great cloud of witnesses” and describes them as surrounding us (12:1). Their presence, their encompassing of us, should be motivation for us to lay aside every encumbrance. An encumbrance is a weight, a burden, a hindrance. The word “entangles” speaks to a tight control being exercised. Sin in your life is pictured like a vine growing up around your feet and controlling their movement, keeping you rooted, trapped where you are. These encumbrances and sins entangling us are to be laid aside. The word here translated “lay aside” is found in Acts 7:58. This is when those who were stoning Stephen laid their robes at Saul’s feet and went on to conduct their business.
So far, we have three details to add to our mental image. You are a runner, surrounded by such a mass of supporters that they are described as a “cloud.” This isn’t just any crowd, though. This is a massive group of people who have been where you are, done what you are about to do and conquered. Not only did they conquer, they overcame more than is being asked of you and received less for it. With their steel shoring up your steel, you reach down and pull off the weights around your ankles. Now your feet are light. You take off the shoes with long laces because you know they will wrap around your ankles, tripping you, sending you face first into the dirt. Now you ready yourself mentally for the race set before you.
This race will require endurance. The word translated “endurance” is found many times in the Bible (see “perseverance” in Romans 5:3-4; James 1:4 for a few examples). It describes steadfastness under trial and “refers to that quality of character which does not allow one to surrender to circumstances or succumb under trial” (Zodhiates). It may be a long or short race; no one can tell you. What you can be sure of is that it will be difficult, but worth it. By endurance, we seek glory, honor, immortality and eternal life (Romans 2:7), gain proven character (Romans 5:4) and hope (Romans 15:5)… all before we’ve even left the book of Romans! The Thessalonians were praised for endurance under their trials in 2 Thessalonians 1:4 and we too can be praised for our perseverance at the end of our race.
As we run, we fix our eyes on Jesus. That is, we keep Him in mind, intently looking to Him and for Him. Moses chose ill-treatment over the passing pleasures of sin because he was looking to the reward (11:24-26). We look to the very author and perfecter of faith. In Jesus, not only was salvation planned, but it was realized. He saw the joy set before Him (just as our race is set before us) and He strove for it. He endured just as we must endure. He was steadfast and persevered through all that the cross entailed. Though he hated the reproach and knew He would be seen as having done wrong, He pressed on and now sits at the right hand of the very throne of God. Likewise, if we run this race with Christ always in our sights, persevere no matter what or who comes our way, and disregard the askance gaze of others, we will claim a reward even greater than that which was given our predecessors who cheer us on around every curve of the course.
We stand with hindrances, weights and obstacles discarded as the rubbish they are. Sin lies crumpled at the edge of the track for it will not control us and bind us where we stand.
Can you see it? Can you picture the scene? Can you hold it your mind’s eye? It’s a powerful image, one of Olympic magnitude. We stand with hindrances, weights and obstacles discarded as the rubbish they are. Sin lies crumpled at the edge of the track for it will not control us and bind us where we stand. The only thing fixed is our intent stare. Our gaze takes in naught but the majesty of the most perfect author of salvation, He who persevered before us and waits eagerly at the hand of our Father to give a reward greater than any we can imagine. The crowd massed about us as thickly as the water droplets composing a cloud roars with confidence knowing that the race we embark on is worth every moment, every tear, every heartache. And we run.
Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary : New Testament (electronic ed.). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.