Hebrews 12:1-17

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Hebrews 12:1-17

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

I do so love the “Just for Laughs” show out of Canada. Sometimes it is a bit much, granted, but sometimes it is just side-splittingly funny. Basically, it is a show of gags and pranks in which unsuspecting people find themselves in crazy or strange or scary circumstances that have been orchestrated by the producers in the show. There is a recurring cast of characters who are “in the know” and they lead these poor folks into and through the funniest of scenarios. The reactions of the victims of the pranks are the greatest!

One of my favorites is the prank pulled on bicyclers. Hidden cameras capture citizens casually riding their bikes down sidewalks. After they pass a U-Haul truck parked to the side, the back of the truck opens and a number of fully-decked-out and geared-up bicyclists come out of the truck, down the ramp, and up behind the person riding his or her back. That person then looks behind and realizes to his or her great shock that they appear to be in a race with this pack of cyclists closing on them. Their reactions are great: shock, horror, confusion, peddling faster! Then, as if that is not enough, a finish line complete with cheering crowd and line ribbon appears before them! They all pass the line and win the “race,” only to be applauded and cheered by the raucous crowd. Then, to top it all off, they are ushered to the first place spot on the platform, given flowers, a medal, and a kiss, all the while being photographed.

You can see the look of panic in their eyes. They are all saying variations of the same thing: “I am not in this race! I did not win any race! I do not know what just happened! What on earth just happened?!

It must be a surreal experience to find oneself in a race that one did not realize he or she was a part of! Such was the experience of those tricked on this show and such too, if we are honest, are some of us. For Hebrews 12 tells us that we actually are in a race, whether we realize it or not, and that we had better come to terms with this fact so that we can be all that God has called us to be!

Yes, it is true! We are in a race, and, like all great races, this means we have an audience, we have a finish line, we have training, and we have a coach.

You have an audience.

Yes, we do have an audience. And who is our audience? Who is watching us run? The writer of Hebrews tells us:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us

Our audience consists of the “cloud of witnesses.” Who is this cloud? It is none other than those mentioned in the previous chapter, that long wonderful list of faithful men and women who came before us.

  • Abel
  • Enoch
  • Noah
  • Abraham
  • Sarah
  • Isaac
  • Jacob
  • Moses
  • Israel
  • Rahab

All of these great heroes of the faith are “surrounding” you! They are cheering for you! They are watching you! But if the “cloud of witnesses” consists of the faithful then it means that seated in the audience are even more heroes of the faith! Look closely: there is Ignatius, there is Justin Martyr, there is Ireneaeus, Augustine, there is Clement, there is Felicitas and Perpetua, the 3rd century martyrs, there is John Chrysostom, the Golden Tongue, there is Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, there is Francis of Assisi, there is Jon Hus, there is John Wycliffe, there is William Tyndale, there is Martin Luther, there is Katie Luther. And there are more: there are Calvin and Arminius, sharing some popcorn and watching you go, there are the Wesley brothers, there is Susanna Wesley, there is Charles Spurgeon, there is Adoniram Judson, there is William Carey, there is Lottie Moon, there is Bill Wallace of China, there is Annie Armstrong, there is C.S. Lewis, there is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, there is your Grandmother, your Grandfather, your spouse, your child…there, indeed, are all who have gone before us who were followers of Jesus!

And what does a surrounding “cloud of witnesses” do in a race? Why, they cheer, they encourage, they implore, they call out, they press you on toward the finish line!

Just think of it: every day, every moment this amazing cloud of witnesses is cheering you on. When you fall they cry out, “Get up, man! Get up! The race is not over yet!” And there you are, bloody knees and heaving chest, but you hear them calling: “Keep going! Keep going! Keep going! We are with you! We are with you!”

You have a finish line.

But is not just that. You also see ahead of you something that pulls you even more powerfully than the “cloud of witnesses” can push you. You see the finish line…and the finish line is Jesus! Listen:

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

Ah! We look to Jesus! He founded our faith! He is why we are saved at all! And He is perfecting our faith! Look at Him! And see there the love of the Son! This Son went to the cross for the joy set before Him! He knows what it is to be in the race! He “endured the cross, despising the shame.” What does this mean, despising the shame? F.F. Bruce writes:

To die by crucifixion was to plumb the lowest depths of disgrace; it was a punishment reserved for those who were deemed most unfit to live, a punishment for those who were subhuman. From so degrading a death Roman citizens were exempt by ancient statute; the dignity of the Roman name would be besmirched by being brought into association with anything as vile as the cross. For slaves, and criminals of low degree, it was regarded as a suitable means of execution, and a grim deterrent to others. But this disgrace Jesus disregarded, as something not worthy to be taken into account when it was a question of his obedience to the will of God. So he brought faith to perfection by his endurance of the cross-and now the place of highest exaltation is his.[1]

So “despising the shame” does not mean Jesus resented having to undergo the shame of the cross. Rather, it means He despised and disregarded the shame itself, considering it unworthy to even consider given the beauty of obedience, even obedience to the point of death on a cross!

Guthrie sees “despising the shame” as “an attitude which does not ignore the shame, but holds it to be of no consequence in view of the joy.”[2] The church father John Chrysostom said that Jesus, in choosing the shameful death of a cross, did so to “teach us to make no account of glory from the human sphere.”[3] Yes! And to “make no account of glory from the human sphere” means also to make no account of shame from the human sphere. It means that Jesus was obedient to the Father without regard to human perception or labels concerning the form of His obedience: His death on the cross.

This Jesus, who loves you this much, who loves the Father this much, who laid down His life, is both with you and waiting for you! He is the finish line! “Looking to Jesus,” the writer says! Keep looking to Jesus! Hear the “cloud of witnesses” but look to Jesus!

You have training.

And like all runners in a race, you have training. The word that the Bible uses for this training is “discipline.” Discipline is how the Lord God loving helps us run our race. Listen closely:

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

The writer of Hebrews is arguing that discipline is the loving hand of God: “the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” Why? Because He is cruel or capricious? No! Not at all! Because He is love! Then the writer draws on the analogy of earthly fathers: “Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them.” This is true! Even the child who says he or she resents discipline will admit later that they needed it.

God, we are told, “disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” Ah! Here is the ground and goal of discipline. The ground of it is God’s love. The goal of it is our holiness, or, rather, “that we may share his holiness.”

No great runner despises training, discipline. Do not despise or resent it! Why is the hand of God on you and on me? Because He loves us! He is calling us to live life and live it abundantly (John 10:10)!

St. Jerome said of our text that “God has entered us as contestants in a racecourse where it is our lot to be always striving.”[4] Do not despise that striving! It could very well be the training, disciplining hand of God!

You have a coach.

And finally we find that we have a coach. The Word of God, which we receive from the apostles (Acts 2:42), beckons us to get up and get to it! Listen:

12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

First, we are called on to get up! “Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees!” Get up! Have you fallen? Then get back up! The “cloud of witnesses” is cheering you on! Jesus is with you and watching you! Get up! If you do not, “what is lame may…be put out of joint” and not “be healed.” If you do not get up, you are going to atrophy down there!

Next, run peaceably! Do not fight the other runners and do not sneer at those not in the race! Be holy! Show the peace and love and joy of Christ!

Next, cast off those things that hinder you from running: bitterness, sexual immorality, and the like!

No, get up and run, run, run!

Theodoret of Cyr challenged his readers on the basis of our text to “be light on our feet and rid ourselves of the burden of unnecessary worries.”[5] Yes! This is the way of the Christian life!

Here is how Paul put it in Philippians 3:

13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Church, you are in a race, whether you realize it or not! The audience consists of all of God’s people throughout time! Your coach is the Word of God and apostolic truth! Your power is the Holy Spirit within you! And your finish line is Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of your faith.

 

[1] F. F. Bruce. The Epistle to the Hebrews. (Kindle Locations 3828-3832). Kindle Edition.

[2] Guthrie, Donald. Hebrews. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

[3] Heen and Krey, p.211.

[4] Erik M. Heen and Philip D.W. Krey, eds. Hebrews. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Gen. Ed. Thomas C. Oden. New Testament X (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), p.210.

[5] Heen and Krey, p.209.

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