Looking To Jesus – Textual Tuesday

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“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” (Heb. 12:1-3).

In this concluding part of Hebrews, the Jewish Christians are encouraged not to turn back to Judaism. The encouragement in this book has been to bolster their faith and draw them back to their commitment. This is a powerful climax to all that has been said before. Notice how the writer appeals to them to endure. The imagery is powerful!

First, they were surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. The imagery is of people coming into an amphitheater to compete. These are the cloud of witnesses depicted as gathered in the stands. The writer points, not to the field of competition, but to the stands. “We are surrounded by this great host of witnesses.” These witnesses are not spectators to observe, but to say something. Just saying we have a bunch of people watching would have no impact. As the contestant’s march in the theater and look up, they do not see a rag tag group of people from here and there. The witnesses did not come out of curiosity. The stands are full of those who have done what he is going to try to do. They have not just tried, but they have done it and done it well. They are all gold medals winners. Certainly, that would motivate the individual who is going to compete to be the best in his field. The competition in the games will be arduous. If there is some hesitancy to compete to do their very best, would it not be set aside?  They would not be ashamed to own it in the company of all those who have done the very best that could be done in this very event.

  • We may be like those who say, as we start to compete, “But look, it is so much work, such a big task, too big for me.” Echoing down from the stands, Noah whispers loudly, “I know, I worked 120 years on the ark!”
  • We may want to lift our voice and say, “The task asks so much and requires so much, I am not sure it is even right to ask so much of me.” A voice falls from the crowd, “I know,” says Abraham, “I went to the mountain of Moriah with my son. I laid him on an altar and raised a knife. I know it is asking a lot!”
  • We say, “They just will not listen.” A voice comes back, “I know,” says Moses, “I was sure they would not listen, but I went.”
  • We say, “I feel so alone.” “I know,” says Elijah from the corner of the crowd. “I felt like I was the only one who stood for the Lord.”
  • We say, “I am so depressed and beaten down.” The voice of Jeremiah calls, “I know, I set up here looking at smoking Jerusalem and Egypt on the horizon.”

That is the company of people who are witnesses. So, the writer says, “Therefore… let us run.” This is about running like heroes run. Heroes are an important commodity. We want to say there are a lot of things wrong with our country, but our greatest loss is the loss of our heroes, even those who are dead. We have dug through their weakness and written books to destroy them. We do not have heroes; we will not tolerate them. When we have no heroes, we do not have much chance at success. These are people about to fall, and his last argument is to heroes. Remember your heroes. Remember Elijah and Jeremiah. Look around and see all the people whose voice of success and encouragement cheer you on to succeed. They are your heroes. That is a powerful argument!

Second, that is not the greatest motivation. When they get through viewing the crowd, their majesty, strength, and all they have endured, and examine their stories, their courage is built up. But there is highlighted in that stadium one that stands above all others. Here is the chief hero, or hero of heroes.

Among the heroes there were some who lived in dens and caves of the earth. Some were sawn asunder. Yet, there is never a cry to deliver themselves from their hardship. Yet, these Hebrew Christians are about to give up having shed not a drop of blood. If they get by the cloud of witnesses, they see Jesus and in His hands are marks of the nails. In His side is a mark of the spear.

Third, Jesus is called “the Author.” Not an author like one who writes. “Author” has to do with one who is the leader, captain. This captain is different than our officers who are in the bunker with their cell phones, removed from the battle. All the while, the soldiers are in the trenches and on the front line. Why did David become the leader among the fighting men? Because when they went to fight, David was out in front. The bravest fellow was the officer out front of the men. He was the man strong enough, capable enough, courageous enough to get out and fight on the front lines. He fought better than anyone else. The people followed him because they saw what he was doing.

They look to Jesus who is their leader. If all the cloud of witnesses has excelled in faith, who excels them all? Who is hero of heroes?  It is Jesus who left all that there was of heaven to come to earth, not to be a king or enjoy all the splendor and applause of this world, but to be reviled and rejected. He lived as a carpenter’s son. He would go to His appointment in Jerusalem, endure the scourging and then go to the cross.

Fourth, their leader is also their “finisher- perfecter.” That is not a reference to just finishing what he started, or getting through with the task, but one who has excelled. Batting 300 is good but what about somebody who bats 1000? That is the “perfecter.” He does it as good as it can be done. That is the one who is the leader. He is our “perfecter” regarding faith. Those who have faltering faith look to Him who is the leader in faith. Look at Him who has perfected faith to the “nth” degree. When they have their eye in the right place, they are ready to compete. With all these about them cheering them on and someone out in front who is leading the way, “Let us run with endurance the race set before us.”

The marathon is the most treasured of the races. It calls for the strength of those who could run and do so with endurance. It is not how they start out. It is not run for a while. All could run for five or ten miles, but what about after 15 miles? They run with endurance!

How will we run? His whole point is to run like Jesus. Setting our eye on the One who has perfected it and the One who leads the way. I cannot help but think when he talks about a leader, the imagery is of a pace setter who sets the pace for the runner.  Jesus is ahead of us, leading us, pacing us, and directing us. We must set our eye on the one who is perfected. We run with endurance!

Pressing toward the mark is to compete and run to the end of all the things that belong to our race.  That press describes the things the racer did when he gave it his all. Especially when the competition gets toward the end. He gives it his all. There is nothing left on the track. He reaches out and puts everything in it, even sometimes falling as he crosses the line.

Here we press, strive, and reach and we learn to do the best of that because we follow Jesus. Jesus is not only preeminent in our preaching but the one who makes us and enables us to run our race and finish it with success.

Run like Jesus. It is a call for us to keep pace with Him. We falter but do not get caught up in the faltering. We slow down sometimes but do not get caught up in the slowing down. Keeping our eye on Jesus is a call to success not failure. Our eye is on the one who succeeds, not on our failure. Run like Jesus.

by Rickie Jenkins