Lesson Number 21
"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, 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. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin" (Hebrews 12:1-4, NKJV).
"All Scripture," being given by the "inspiration of God," reflects the priorities of the Living God. The Word is not a manual of conduct, a lifeless history book, or an organizational charter. Its aim is not the mere reformation of wayward souls, but their transformation. God's Word addresses the matter of man's alienation from God, informing us of the effectiveness of a vicarious sacrifice, honored in heaven and proclaimed upon earth. All of nature has been blasted with the curse of the Almighty, and is destined for destruction (2 Pet 3:10-12). Scripture apprizes us of a means provided by God, through Christ, and by the Spirit, to "clean escape" the realm of the condemnation.
All of heaven is involved in the "great salvation," which is being accomplished under the administration of Christ Jesus. Inactivity has not part in God's "eternal purpose." Jesus said His Father was working, and He was also working (John 5:17). The angels are intensely active, "sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation" (Heb 1:13-14). The Holy Spirit has been sent "into our hearts, crying Abba Father" (Gal 4:6). The Lord Jesus Himself "always lives to make intercession for" the saints (Heb 7:25). There is no room for passivity or inactivity in the Kingdom of God. When it comes to our personal involvement in salvation, the "God-has-done-it-all" hypothesis falls to the ground. There is no such thing as a salvation in which the ones being saved are uninvolved! Noah built an ark! Abraham went into Sarah! Joseph built storage houses for grain in Egypt! Israel went through extensive preparations in their deliverance from Egypt! David fought Goliath! In all of these cases, those being delivered DID something in faith. It was God Who saved them, to be sure. Yet, they were themselves involved in the process.
It is no different with us. While our works are not the cause of our salvation, they are involved in its realization. We are, after all, "His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph 2:10). As to the cause and foundation of our salvation, it all belongs to Christ. But that foundation must be embraced by the individual, becoming the basis for arduous and consistent spiritual activity. Our entrance into the fulness of eternal life involves our "labor" (John 6:27; Heb 4:1). Hands that "hang down" must be strengthened to be raised (Heb 12:12)!
The book of Hebrews is calling believers into aggressive involvement with God. It summons them from the outer court into the "holiest of all" into communion with the Most High. Taken seriously, it will develop a disdain for spiritual idleness and lack of growth. It awakens the soul to the jeopardy of retarded response to God, a lethargic posture, and the embrace of ceremonial religion. Faith cannot sleep, and hope cannot rest! Thus, the Spirit has reminded us of the faithful before us--those filled with faith. They were noted for what they DID--all of them. Read the eleventh chapter of Hebrews again, and let the record of doing saints sink down into your heart. You have not forgotten, have you? Elders "obtained a good report," "Abel offered unto God," and Enoch "pleased God." Noah "prepared an ark," "Abraham obeyed," and Sarah "bore a child." "Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau," Jacob "blessed both the sons of Joseph," and Joseph "gave commandment concerning his bones." Moses parent "hid" him in an ark they prepared, Moses "chose to suffer affliction," and Israel "passed through the Red Sea." The walls of Jericho were felled with a "shout" from the believing Israelites, and Rahab "hid" the spies. Faith enabled its recipients to "subdue kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens." The notion that we can do nothing in the matter of our salvation contradicts both the nature and revelation of that salvation.
This activity, however, is prompted and enabled by faith, not fleshly abilities. It is God Who "works in us, both to will and to do of His own good pleasure," but He does not do it without our involvement. It is that involvement that brings Him glory! This is the case because it contradicts every form of human reason and ability. Not a single accomplishment recorded in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews could have been wrought apart from God! Equally true, none of them were wrought without the participation of the individuals involved.
Your salvation is to be seen from this vantage point. The BASIS for it has been accomplished by Jesus Christ, independent of your input. Currently, the Intercessory activity of Jesus at God's right hand is sustaining you. Your resources come from heaven through the channel of your faith. The appropriation of those accouterments, however, together with the successful employment of them, requires all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. THAT IS THE POINT OF THIS SECTION OF SCRIPTURE. No casualness is allowed! Danger consistently lurks in the dark!
"Therefore we also . . . " The Spirit is not merely provided the record of an illustrious heritage. He is not promoting institutional hype, or seeking to develop a wholesome respect for certain "heroes of the faith." The foregoing references are germane to our life in Christ Jesus. There is a message here we need to hear. We have something in common with the saints of old time. Our successful involvement in the will of God requires faith in us, just as it did in them. What God asks of us is just as difficult, if not more so, than a barren woman having a child, an aged man becoming the father of many nations, and a man building an ark to the saving of his house! What God now requires of you is just as difficult, and more so, than Israel crossing the Red Sea, the walls of Jericho falling down, or Gideon defeating the Midianites. You can no more get to heaven without faith, than David could have overcome Goliath without it!
I particularly like the KJV version of this verse. It is more spiritual than academic. "Wherefore seeing we also . . . " Grammatically, it is true, the word Toigaroun (toy-gar-oon) means truly for then, i.e. consequently: therefore, or for that very reason, then. This is, however, a moral expression, not a mere literary one. It denotes spiritual insight, suggesting that seeing the significance of what has been said will have a powerful constraining effect upon us. Here we see the relevancy of the foregoing accounts to us. Some might call it an application, which it surely is. Elsewhere, Scripture apprizes us, "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope" (Rom 15:4, NKJV). While the will and activity of the individuals were involved in the matters in reference, it was all orchestrated by God in order to our instruction and encouragement. The Spirit even applies this reasoning to the record of waywardness in Israel. "Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come" (1 Cor 10:11).
These are not, then, simply Bible Stories. They reveal the nature and effectiveness of faith. In them we see how deeply the saints are involved in their own deliverance. They relate to us accounts from another era, a prior dispensation, and times when advantages we enjoy had not yet been given. However, they show us how God works. They reveal the indispensability and effectiveness of faith. They also confirm it is not vain to trust the Lord! O, we must learn from these accounts. We must learn to lay our lives along the side of the ancients, and derive encouragement.
The contemporary penchant for present day examples is not bad, but it is not best! There is no more powerful incentive for a strong faith than the inspired record of people whom God confessed as His favored ones. This generation must not allow these accounts to slip from them in preference for the record of their contemporary peers. The record of Abraham's faith becoming the basis for righteousness, for example, is provided "for us also, to whom" righteousness will also be imputed, if we believe (Rom 4:23-24). The hero- mentality, so prevalent in our time, is not appropriate for believers. Abel, Enoch, Noah, and others, are not mere heroes or champions, but our examples. They show us what God can do in and through those who believe. In our case, it is not only the subjugation of adversaries and overcoming difficult circumstances, but the appropriation of the very life and righteousness of God Almighty!
"Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses . . . " The word "surround" or "compassed" (KJV) means to lie all around, i.e. inclose, encircle, hamper: be bound (compassed) with, hang about. The expression denotes something presently experienced. It is not a historical perspective. The words econtej perikeimenon ("compassed by," or "surrounded by"), are in the active voice, denoting something occurring NOW. We "ARE" compassed or surrounded by these witnesses. The imagery is that of a great amphitheater, with the arena of the runners, and the tiers upon tiers of seats rising up like a cloud. Unlike those attending a mere game, however, these witnesses, or testifiers, remain. They are like a boundary around us. They form a circumference, and are among a gallery of witnesses that even include the holy angels, who themselves camp round those fearing the Lord (Psa 34:7).
While the angels protect and minister to believers (Psa 91:11; Heb 1:13-14), the faithful who have gone before us testify to us. They do not do so person-to-person, but through the record of their faith. Their lives provide a resounding confirmation of the effectiveness of faith. It is as though they were shouting to those struggling in the good fight of faith, "You can make it! Run! Fight! Don't give up! God is with you! Consider us! Consider us! We went through fire and water, and made it to the other side! We did the impossible! Divine power was given to us because we willed to believe God! Do not look at the circumstance, but to the Lord! O, we need to hear them!
God of the living
Some object to this, saying that it is simply the record that is in reference, not the witnesses themselves. But this is not the case. We are not surrounded by a document, but by witnesses; not by a record, but by personalities. That is what the Spirit says! They are called a "cloud of witnesses" because of the vast number of them. Even if there had only been very few such witnesses, they should have aroused our slumbering spirits and fired our souls for the "good fight of faith" (1 Tim 6:12). But this is a vast and prestigious assembly that surrounds us. Millions kept the Passover, came out of Egypt, passed through the Red Sea, and drank from a rock in a wilderness! From Abel through the period of the Judges and the Kings, there have been people who lived by faith. In Elijah's day, there were "seven thousand" who, by faith, refused to bow their knees to Baal (1 Kings 19:18; Rom 11:4). Every age has had its "remnant" (Isa 10:20; Ezek 6:8; Amos 5:15; Micah 2:12; Zech 8:12; Rom 11:5), and God has never left Himself "without witness" (Acts 14:17). Now, they ALL surround us.
Do not doubt the possibility of this! Jesus affirmed the present existence of those who died in the faith. "But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken" (Mark 12:26-27). God will not raise those who are inactive or do not exist, but the living. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have left this world, but they have not ceased to be! We know this is the case because an extensive dialog the "rich man" had with Abraham from the very regions of hell (Luke 16:23-30). Abraham also "comforted" Lazarus, who suffered in this world (Luke 16:25). Peter, James, and John saw "Moses and Elijah" speaking with Jesus on the "holy mount" (Matt 17:3; Luke 9:30).
We are told of martyrs who presently are conscious, active, observant, asking questions, and receiving answers. "I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, 'How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?' Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed" (Rev 6:9-11).
The "rich man" who died and lifted up his eyes in torment knew about his brothers upon the earth. He sought their welcome from the region of the damned. Do you remember his words? "Then he said [to Abraham], 'I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house, 'for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.'" (Luke 16:27-28). Abraham himself had some awareness of things upon the earth. He answered the rich man. "'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' But he said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead'" (Luke 16:29-31). Think! Both Moses and the prophets lived a considerable time AFTER Abraham. He knew nothing of either when he was in the world. Yet, he was fully aware of them on the other side.
No person, therefore should think it strange that we could be surrounded with a "great cloud of witnesses" who are intensely interested in race to glory we are running. If the rich man could be interested in his brothers in the world, why could not departed saints have a vital interest in the warfare of fellow believers in the world? Are we not told that we have come into fellowship with a family with representatives in "heaven" as well as the "earth" (Eph 3:15)? Is it not written that we are "COME . . . to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven . . . and to the spirits of just men made perfect" (Heb 12:22-23)?
This cloud, or vast assembly of witnesses, are very real, and their observation of us is very real. In a very substantial sense, they lived out their lives for us--as a testimony to us of the unwavering effectiveness of faith. A specific journey was laid out for each of them, and they traversed treacherous and threatening surroundings to complete it. You are in the same situation, and are called upon to hear their testimony!
Listen to their confession, and doubt not the ability of your faith to carry you through. "But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive" (Joseph, Gen 50:20). "There failed not ought of any good thing which the LORD had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass" (Joshua, Josh 21:45). "Thus far the LORD has helped us" (Samuel, 1 Sam 7:12). "I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread" (David, Psa 37:25). "There hath not failed one word of all his good promise" (Solomon, 1 Kgs 8:56). Hear them, child of God! Hear them! It is not necessary for you to suffer the same setbacks as those before you. Their record has been written to give us the advantage in the good fight of faith. You honor them by believing their record and running your race.
" . . . let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us . . . " The "race that is set before us" is possible long, and leads through treacherous terrain. It requires agility of soul, and does not allow for excess baggage. Every believer will confront moral and spiritual "weights" that make it difficult to live by faith. Often, these "weights" are not unlawful of themselves. It is not so much that they contradict the Word of the King. Rather, they tend to detract from the goal, tempting the individual to make this world primary. These "weights" are personal matters, and thus are not precisely defined. Their identity requires the assessment of the hearer more than the writer.
The nature of the faith-life, or running the race set before us, demands that we run with as few hindrances as possible. A cross country runner who carries a backpack laden with rocks, in the key race, is not wise, to say the least. A fighter who places a hundred-pound weight on one of his hands is should not expect to win the contest. Yet, I have witnessed people attempting to navigate from earth to glory with unnecessary weights and encumbrances. It was not long until they dropped out of the race from spiritual fatigue. That fatigue was owing more to the conflicting weights that they carried than the length or hardship of the race itself. Some will counter that runners do, in fact, practice with weights on their ankles. This is true. But none of them run for the prize with those weights--and you are running to "obtain" the prize (1 Cor 9:26).
The way leading to life is "strait (difficult) and narrow" (Matt 7:14). It will not allow for a lot of excess baggage. For one rich young ruler, his possessions proved too weighty for him to follow Jesus (Matt 19:16- 22). For another, wrapping everything up at home stood between him and discipleship (Luke 9:61-62). For Judas, thirty pieces of silver proved too large a weight to allow entrance into life (Matt 26:15-16). For Esau, a desire for food was a "weight" that disqualified him for the inheritance (Heb 12:16). Whatever makes it more difficult to run the race is a "weight." If it impedes your progress, it is a "weight." Things require attention and commitment that belong to God alone are "weights." Such things deplete your spiritual energy, but offer no corresponding spiritual value or resources.
And what are we to do with such "weights?" We are to "lay aside every weight" (KJV, RSV, NASB). The NIV reads "throw off everything that hinders." The word translated "lay aside" or "throw off" is apoqemenoi (ap-ot-eeth'-ay-mee), which means throw off, to be done with; take off. It is a strong one, and is not to be seen as a casual activity. In this form, it is used three other times in the Apostolic writings. (1) "Therefore, putting away lying . . . " (Eph 4:25). (2) "Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness . . . " (James 1:21). (3) "Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking" (1 Pet 2:1). The language suggests deliberation and firm resolve. This is not something done rashly or in haste. Our perception of the nature of this race, together with the recollection of the saints who have gone before us, will compel us to discard what hinders us.
This is an intensely personal thing. It is not something we are to apply to our brethren, but an activity in which we are to regularly engage. Our hearts are to be tender enough, and our vision clear enough to assess what is making it difficult for us to run the race that is set before us. Our decision is to be based upon spiritual understanding. We may suppose working for a living impedes our progress. Then, upon quitting our job, we find we have even greater hindrances. Live close enough to the Lord to be able to make this assessment, and receive strength to thrust impeding weights from you. Your effort to cast aside such things will be undergirded by Divine power!
And the sin . . .
We are also to "lay aside . . . the sin which doth so easily beset us." The NKJV reads "the sin which so easily ensnares us." The RSV reads, "sin which clings so closely," while the NIV says "and the sin that so easily entangles." While it is true that sin in general "easily entangles," this text is speaking more specifically. Each of us have areas of especial vulnerability--areas where Satan can more easily make inroads into our thinking. For Achan, it was the sin of covetousness (Josh 7). For Ananias and Sapphira, it appeared to be pride and misrepresentation (Acts 5). From the etymological viewpoint, the word euperistaton (yoo-per-is'-tat-os) means standing around, i.e. a competitor, thwarting in every direction. The picture is that of a lion, ready to pounce on the unsuspecting. The imagery is extended in Peter's solemn warning about Satan. "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet 5:8).
Our "adversary" finds those he can devour through open doors, moral weaknesses, areas of indecision and insensitivity to God. The child of God is charged with closing off all areas of approach. In the words of the Spirit, "Neither give place to the devil" (Eph 4:27). From another inspired viewpoint, "But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof" (Rom 13:14). We are never to give the flesh the advantage, for that increases Satan's power against us.
The person who insists on taking fire into his bosom will surely be burned (Prov 6:27). For some, this is the area of money, for others, indulgence, and for others prestige. Each one has areas of weakness created by our former lives, when we lived in the flesh. We more easily succumb in this areas, and are thus to cast them away from us in preference of eternal life.
The language of this verse is arresting. It is the sin itself that is to be thrown off, aggressively cast away from us. We are not to allow it expression, suffocating it with the love of the truth and the shield of faith. Peter said it this way, "Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord" (1 Pet 2:1-3). Your "flesh," or sinful nature, is like the "daughters" of the "horseleach" which cry "GIVE, GIVE" (Prov 30:15). It demands attention, but you must close your ears to its cries. Unless the flesh is crucified, it will take heaven from you!
You throw off the sin that "so easily besets" you by starving it, so to speak. You refuse to feed it, and you will not allow it to express itself--even in the areas where it is especially easy for it to do so. James put it this way. "Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls" (James 1:21), KJV). The word "superfluity" comes from perisseian (perisseian), which means surplusage, i.e. superabundance:--abundance,.2 prevalence, and excessive amount. The picture is of spring of water overflowing--a contaminated spring. It also might be likened to a boiling pot, which eventually overflows. Sin is like that. It is first contemplated within. The lower nature is fed by exposure to then things it craves. After a time, sin begins to fester in the soul, and eventually overflows in expression. How do we stop this from happening? How can the abundance of sin NOT overflow in our words and deeds, thereby hindering us in the race that has been set before us?
The corrupt fountain of nature must not be allowed to boil. It must be removed from the fire of preference, and smothered by an affection set on things above, and not on things on the earth (Col 3:1-3). This is HOW we put off the "sin that so easily besets us."As long as we allow our affection to be prostituted by the things of this world, sin will cling to us like an impeding weight, forbidding us to make progress to glory. Throw it off by saying "'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions" (Tit 2:12, NIV). Grace will "teach" you to do this by giving you insight into "so great salvation" (Heb 2:3). How many I have seen who started the "race" with a burst of energy. They appeared to grasp great Kingdom truth rapidly, and soon put a distance between themselves and those who chose spiritual mediocrity. But, alas, after a time, they were "beset" in their race. Soon, "the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful" (Mark 4:19, NKJV). It all happened so "easily," because they did not "cast off" the weight and sin which so easily beset them. Take the admonition seriously!
Salvation is not a series of wind-sprints: i.e., short and swift spurts of forward movement. Many individuals seek to make spiritual advance in the hour of crisis. That is when they seek prayer. That is when they attempt to draw near to God, fill their minds with Scripture, and devote themselves to eternal matters. They suppose such conduct will get them out of the crisis, gaining Divine favor for themselves. However, this is not a fair representation of the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. Jesus did not die so we could be delivered from momentary crises! He did not give Himself to affect a temporal deliverance for us. That sort of thing occurred under the Old Covenant, and in ways most dramatic. "Some better thing" has been provided "for us" (Heb 11:40).
Faith enters us into a race with eternity in view. When we were "given to believe" (Phil 1:29), God did not have the correction of temporal circumstances in mind, although that often occurs. The Holy Spirit has extended Himself, so to speak, to provide us with a proper perspective of the faith-life. "So that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom 5:21, NKJV). "Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life" (Jude 21, NKJV). "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor 4:17-18, NKJV). "Looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ" (Tit 2:13, NKJV). "Looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?" (2 Pet 3:12). "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself" (Phil 3:20-21, NKJV). These passages could be multiplied many times. The point to be seen is this: faith has eternity in perspective else it is not "the faith of God's elect" (Tit 1:1).
"Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us . . . " However far you may have advanced in the Kingdom of God's dear Son, there is much more to be attained. You have not ceased to "hunger and thirst for righteousness" (Matt 5:6), "seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matt 6:33), and "wait for His Son from heaven" (1 Thess 1:10). Faith continues to constrain you to "wait for the hope of righteousness" (Gal 5:5), "purify yourself even as He is pure" (1 John 3:3), and "lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven" (Matt 6:20). You look for the changing of your "vile body" (Phil 3:20), the wiping away of your tears (Rev 7:17; 21:4), and being delivered from the "bondage of corruption" (Rom 8:21-23). Our situation is similar to that of Israel in route to Canaan. We are out of Egypt, but in a wilderness. We still confront hostile personalities, are subject to various deprivations, and must think of where we are going. We are seeking to put a greater distance between us and the world, and a smaller distance between us and heaven.
Remember, it was only AFTER Abraham had "patiently endured" that he "obtained the promise" (Heb 6:15). AFTER he had received the promise, he had to endure nearly 25 years of impotence. He experienced the conflict of his herdsmen and those of his nephew Lot. He had to endure Hagar and Ishmael, and the mocking of Isaac. He was required to have his faith sorely tested at Mount Moriah. He certainly could not have obtained the promise with a religion of fits and starts!
Remember these three cardinal points. ENDURANCE! ENDURANCE! ENDURANCE! No one who does not "finish" the race will obtain the prize! You must "run to obtain the prize" not ONE of the prizes, but "the prize" (1 Cor 9:24). Only ONE receives the prize, says the Spirit. Hear His words! "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it"(1 Cor 9:24, NKJV). While our brethren are precious to us, there is a sense in which we do not run in clusters. There is a sense in which we run alone, and blessed is the person who sees it. If others do not obtain the prize, be sure that you obtain it! In the center of a most remarkable Apostleship, Paul confessed, "I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:14, NKJV).
We live in a time when too many people are clustered around the starting line. For some, the "beginning" is everything. Their entire church strategy (if I may so call it) is designed to get people to begin the race. Everything is measured by how many START the race. But this not the posture of the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. The saints who have gone before us are not overly enamored with starting either. They recall how some started the trip to Canaan, but were "overthrown in the wilderness" (1 Cor 10:5). The Apostles could remind us of one of their own number who "fell by transgression," leaving a vacated "bishopric" (Acts 1:17-20). Paul can tell us of "Demas" who forsook him, "having loved this present world" (2 Tim 4:10), and Peter of those who "turn from the holy commandment delivered to them" (2 Pet 2:21). A penchant for statistics has enabled some sophists to account for the falling away of disciples. Some can even predict how many how many will depart from the faith in a specified period of time. They are starting experts!
You will find heavenly personalities clustered around the finishing line! It is finishing that is everything. If the race is not completed, nothing else counts. Believing, in such a case, was "in vain" (1 Cor 15:2). The faith was not "kept," the race was not finished, and the prize will not be gained! What difference, therefore, will it make whether or not the race was started, if it is not finished? Eternal life, we are told, will be given to those who "by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality" (Rom 2:7). The time of reaping will surely come, if spiritual fatigue does not bring us down. As it is written, "And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart" (Gal 6:9). What, dear believer, is worth "losing heart" over? Stay in the race! Stay in the race!
Author and Finisher
"Looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith . . . " The children of God assume a forward posture, not looking back as Lot's wife to the realm from which they have been delivered. The secret to a proper focus on the future, is a consistent consideration of the Lord Jesus Christ. If He authored our faith, and alone is the Finisher of it, our attention must be focused upon Him. The strong implication of this text is that Jesus will not "finish" our faith is we are not looking to Him. When our attention is turned from the Son of God, we do the same thing Peter did sink! (Matt 14:29-31). A religion that does not give the Lord Jesus the preeminent place is an impediment to the soul. If it is not overcome, it will bring condemnation upon the individual.
Faith, from this perspective, is under the administration of the Lord Jesus Christ. The NASB reads, "the Author and Pefecter of faith." The word translated "Author" (archgon, archgon) can also be rendered "Captain," emphasizing the administrative role of the Savior. The point of our text is arresting. The Lord Jesus will not perfect or mature our faith while we are occupied with other considerations. Faith is not self- developed or sustained. It requires the Lord Jesus Christ Himself be initiated, nurtured, and brought to fruition. This condition requires an emphasis upon the Gospel of Christ.
A heavenly manner
Faith makes our manner of life heavenly. We are looking for our Savior to "descend from heaven with a shout" (1 Thess 4:16). That is where He is now. We look for Him to come from there to change our "vile bodes" (Phil 3:20,21). Believers are said to be "waiting for His Son from heaven" (1 Thess 1:10). Currently, Jesus is speaking "from heaven" (Heb 12:25), and our new house or resurrection body, will be brought to us "from heaven" (2 Cor 5:1-2). Heaven is where Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55; 1 Pet 3:22). Our hope is "laid up" for us "in heaven" (Col 1:5), being "reserved" there "for us" (1 Pet 1:4). The notion of a worldly-minded church is so utterly absurd it is repulsive to the believer. Endurance in the race is simply not possible without a due and invariable consideration of the Lord Jesus Christ.
What it means to LOOK to Jesus
Paul stated what is involved in "looking unto Jesus." There is nothing casual about such vision. "Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:8-14).
Looking to Jesus involves the ascription of superior worthy to Him--the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. Christ Himself is the Object of fervent quest--that I may gain Christ and be found in Him. The only way to appropriate righteousness, which is indispensable to Divine acceptance, is through the Lord Jesus--righteousness . . . which is through faith in Christ. Personal intimacy with the Lord Jesus is therefore sought. This involves participation in His resurrection, suffering, and death--that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.
These are not simply the aspirations of the Apostle Paul. They are normative in the Kingdom of God, and are expected of everyone who believes. As it is written, "Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you" (Phil 3:5). It is possible to not have this perspective, but that condition will not long remain if faith is kept. God "will reveal" this mind-set to those who continue in the faith. And why so? Because it is not possible to obtain the eternal inheritance without it!
Look to the example of Jesus!
How is it that Jesus was able to endure the cross? Some novices have suggested it was because of His profound love for us. There certainly is an element of truth in that observation, but it falls far short of Divine affirmation. We have endured too many sentimental views of a suffering Savior--views that are distorted and tend to hide the truth from us. The Holy Spirit tells us precisely how Jesus was able to the curse of the Almighty. It was "for the joy set before Him." His eye was set toward the future. God has promised Him the heathen for His "inheritance" (Psa 2:8). He knew the Father would not allow His body to be left in the grave, nor soul to be retained in hades (Psa 26:10; Acts 2:27). The shame of this ignominious death was nothing to compare with the glory He was to experience! The unspeakable "shame" of the cross was "endured" in prospect of the future--the joy that was set before Him. His exaltation to the right hand of God proves the effectiveness of setting your affection on the coming joy!
"For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls." If it seems as though you have been required to pass through great difficulties, consider Jesus! If you have faced opposition and hostility from sinners, consider Jesus! No one has ever "endured" such remarkable hostility and opposition. In Jesus, the world became openly and unquestionably aligned against the Living God. The "kings of the earth" set themselves deliberately and determinedly against Him (Psa 2:2). They saw Him as a restriction upon themselves, and resolved to violently tear away that restriction (Psa 2:3). Although He was the appointed Cornerstone, determining the nature of God's dwelling among men, the "builders" forthrightly "rejected" Him (Psa 118:22; Matt 21:42; Acts 4:11). Those rejecting Him struck Him, pulled the hair from His face, and spat upon Him (Isa 50:6). His "visage," or appearance was "so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men" (Isa 52:14).
In addition to the direct hostility of sinners, He tasted the bitter cup of human transgressions, which were all "laid on" Him. His spirit had never been soiled with sin, nor had any guile or pretension been in His mouth. The experience to which He was appointed was itself so repulsive to the Savior, He sought a way of avoiding it (Luke 22:41-44). We are not capable of perceiving the fulness of the hostility involved in our Lord's confrontation of the sins of the world, and even being "made sin for us." Yet, we are to consider that hostility in its entirety--from the manger to the cross!
And why are we to consider such things? "Lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls." While some affirm that such a thing is not possible, the Spirit solemnly warns us of this condition. Were there no danger in it, a warning of this nature would not be required. Spiritual fatigue and discouragement can be lethal to the soul. If you do not keep Jesus at the heart of your consideration, the opposition of the world will wear you down. When we lose our spiritual bravery and determination, finishing the race becomes impossible. The Lord does not place us on a self-propelled vehicle to bring us to glory, but in a race--a race with other contenders. There are distractions, oppositions, and conflicts all the way. There are storms of trial, floods of affliction, and fires of testing through which you must run--all the while contending with fierce adversaries. How do you hope to finish this race if you become weary and "faint in your mind." Such a condition invariably exaggerates the enemy and diminishes the Savior.
Our spiritual strength is fueled by our vision of Christ. If He is not seen, strength dissipates. There is no healing or renewal apart from "the Sun of righteousness" (Mal 4:2). I feel compelled to say the following because of my own experience in the faith. Much of contemporary religion is actually a distraction to the saints. It makes it exceedingly difficult to consider Jesus or focus upon Him. This world cannot be allowed preeminence in any sense without suffering spiritual retardation, fatigue, and discouragement. Unless that trend is reversed, and the heart and mind are set upon the Lord Jesus, our faith will not be perfected, and we will not enter into a glorious reign with Jesus.
"You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin." Note, the striving is not against "sinners," but "against sin." Satan's objective is to lure us back into sin--into transgression. His temptations begin with thought, but they do not end there. One of his chief temptations is threatening the lives of the saints. Many of the early believers had given their lives for the Lord Jesus and the honor of keeping the faith. They had resisted the encroachments of the devil "to bloodshed." In recognition of this condition, the Spirit cries out, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Rom 8:35-37). Early in the history of the church Stephen and James "resisted unto bloodshed" (Acts 7:58-60; Acts 12:1-2). There was "Antipas," Christ's "faithful martyr," also resisted "unto bloodshed" (Rev 2:13).
It is one thing to read about the suffering of others, it is quite another to suffer ourselves. By saying "You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin," the Spirit is suggesting the path to glory may very well lead that way. No person can confront this type of opposition in a lethargic spirit. You may not yet have resisted sin to the point of shedding your blood, but you must arm yourself to do so. This is not a morbid message. Rather, it highlights the enmity of the Spirit against the flesh, and the flesh against the Spirit (Gal 5:17). It is written, "If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?" (Jer 12:5). Resisting "unto bloodshed" is contending with horses. It is facing the Jordan at flood-tide. All other temptations, stresses, and oppositions are like aggravating footmen. If we do not learn to run heartily and consistently on the plains, what will we do when we face the mountains?
Now is the time for a strong determination. This is the time to strip from ourselves impeding weights, and learn to run with endurance. Remember, the race must be completed in order to receive the prize! You have been called to a life of intense spiritual activity. It is not one lived in a moral vacuum, but one where opposing thoughts are distracting influences are regularly experienced. Faith is fully equal to these challenges, but only if it is kept.
God has placed you in a race that will bring Him glory. You appear to be at a great disadvantage, but with Jesus, you are not. The circumstances of your race are designed to take from you every vestige of trust in yourself and your abilities. Christ's strength will be made perfect within you by means of your weakness. What appears to be a handicap is actually your means of accessing Divine strength!
Hear the text again, and let it "sink down into your ears" (Luke 9:44, KJV). "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood" (Heb 12:1-4, NIV).
The spirits of just men made perfect challenge you to complete your race as they completed theirs. They summon you from the other side. If you will listen, you can become a partaker of the "powers of the world to come" (Heb 6:5).
Now, put your hand on the plow, and refuse to look back (Luke 9:62). Determine to "run with endurance the race set before you," always keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus. Think of His race, and the hostilities He faced. Think how He maintained His walk with the Father, refusing to allow anything to sever the life-giving bond! Let your heart and mind take hold of the "prize" that awaits you at Christ's right hand. It will not be long until the race is over. But until it is, you must run with endurance, not fainting or becoming weary in your mind