Rev. Dick is pastor of the First Protestant Reformed Church of Lacombe, AB, Canada.
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience 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 is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Wherefore . . . run!
They ran. Now you run! They are the runners of faith as Hebrews 11 has described. Now they are a great cloud of witnesses who surround you. They ran without having received the promise. But now the promise has been fulfilled. Christ has come. Christ has run before you the race of your salvation. Now you run! Run with the full assurance that in Him the victory is certain!
On your mark!
Christianity is a race. Let us run the race, Hebrews 12:1, 2exhorts. The comparison of Christianity to a race calls to mind the ancient Olympic games of Greece. We have modern day Olympic games. The running races are popular contests at these games. The track is at the center of the stadium. Spectators urge on the runners. Medals are given to the victors.
The Christian race is spiritual. It starts when we are born again. Along the way to the finish line we “run after” holiness in the way of thankful obedience, as athletes disciplined by the Holy Spirit. The race ends when we are summoned to heaven and given the victor’s crown. The race is our striving to be godly on the way to glory.
This race, our text says, is “set before us.” It is set before us in the Scriptures. There are revealed the commandments of God. We are to live by them. We are to run, with all of God’s people, the way of the commandments of God (Ps. 119:32).
But more. The Word of God gives us the examples of others who have run before us the race of faith. We learn from their race. We learn how to run as they did. We are warned by their sinning how not to run. We are encouraged by the fact that by faith these all received a good report and a glorious crown through running the race set before them.
Further encouragement is found in the fact that we know that this race that we are to run has ever been set before God, ordained by Him in eternity. The beginning and the end He knew and determined. The race you have to run as a mother. The race I have to run as a father. The race one has to run alone, with no husband or wife. The race some have to run as cripples. The race covenant children must begin to run, very often before they can walk. The race of the young and of the old, of male and female, of slow runners and fast. God determined them all!
Great comfort, this, especially seeing as our race is extremely difficult. Hebrews 12:1, 2 does not kid us. It does not present the Christian race as a mid-morning stroll in the park. Rather, the emphasis of the text is that this race is very difficult. The Greek word for “race” points to this. The word is agoon. From this word we get the English “agony,” and “anguish.”
And that is our race. It is a fierce and grueling struggle. Our spiritual muscles often ache, our spiritual lungs sometimes seem about to burst. For the Christian is always to run his race—night and day. He must never let up. And daily he must exercise the most rigorous discipline of body and of soul.
Other things make the spiritual race difficult. For one thing, the race is long. It is a spiritual marathon. The marathon in the Greek games and today is 26 miles, 385 yards. But our race is longer. It is lifelong! Besides, what adds to the difficulty of our race is that we do not know exactly where we are going. An earthly runner knows every inch of the course he must run. But we do not know just exactly where the Lord is leading us to run. To be sure, we know that heaven is our final destination. But along the way God does not tell us where we will have to run tomorrow or the next day. We do not know what is around the bend or over the hill. There is grace, and light, only for each step of the race. All these things make for a difficult spiritual race. But there is one difficulty which makes our running well nigh impossible. That difficulty is weight, as Hebrews 12:1 sets forth. Have you ever tried to run with weights? Weight, whether it be the weight of heavy boots or of fat, can make running difficult, even impossible. The weight referred to in our text is the weight of sin. Sin is a weight. It hinders our running.
Anxiety, fear, doubt, unbelief—these are all so many sinful weights, hindrances to our running. Who, for example, can run properly the Christian race if he is so anxious about a past of sin, always “looking over his shoulder”? A runner who looks over his shoulder will surely trip and fall!
Things, like the television, sports activities, work—these can become weights to us. They are not weights in themselves. But watch them enough, enjoy them too much, become immersed in them too often, and they will hinder your spiritual racing.
This weight, this sin, is described as something which doth so easily beset us. We may translate: sin is something which “doth so well encircle us.” We have a sinful nature. We have our besetting sins which constantly hinder our life of holiness. There is the devil, and a whole world of evil people who want to get us and our children off the track.
So many difficulties. And sometimes, dear Christian reader, fellow runner, do we not get discouraged? We experience the loneliness of the long-distance spiritual runner—sometimes it seems as if we are the only ones running and wrenching our bodies and souls. We wonder how that prize, that victor’s crown, can ever be for such poor runners as we are. We want to give up.
But the Word of God says: Run! Run to the end!
How are we to do this? First, we are to lay aside the weight and sin which dot-h so easily beset us. As the runner trims off the fat by rigorous denial, as he takes off the heavy clothing or anything which would interfere with his running, so must we put off our weights, our sins, and avoid that which leads us to sin. And we must do this completely: every weight, every sin, must go. This we do by prayer, repentance, godly self-discipline, and close attention to the race “set before us” in the Word of God.
Positively, we must run with patience, as our text says. Patience is the ability to run, but also, strikingly, to wait—to wait on God. It is the ability to run, but always to rest in God and His way for you, His will for you. Patience enables us to endure to the end, keeps us from burning out when the race gets more difficult or seems too long.
Laying aside every weight, with patience, and looking to Jesus—that is how we run!
We look to Jesus as an example to follow. He had a race to run while on earth. And He ran it perfectly, without sin. He patiently endured the contradiction of sinners and ran, despising the shame. That is, He thought so little of it while looking at the joy set before Him of victory and exaltation and the gathering of the church for His Father. He ran to the end!
We look to Him by faith. We look to Him and behold Scripture’s revelation of how He ran. We cling to Him and run to Him for help in the race we must run.
There are great incentives which our text gives to encourage us to continue the Christian race.
First, we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses. The cloud of witnesses is reference first of all to the believers of Hebrews 11, but also, by implication, to all the saints who have run before. These witness of something they know, they tell the truth about it. They speak of God. They speak of the strength of faith to overcome all obstacles. They speak of the great victory given. Some of them witness through the record of their lives in the Scriptures. Others, familiar to us personally, witness to us in our memories of how they lived, what they said.
There is a great cloud of these witnesses, a great number. There are Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and millions more. They encompass us like spectators in the stadium, watching as we run. But they are not watching as mere spectators. For they have run the race before, and won the prize. They testify to us. They shout encouragement to us.
And they are shouting from heaven now as well, I imagine. Those Old Testament heroes of faith, and our grandparents, and parents, and others we know who have gone before us and finished their race—can we not hear them? They are saying things like: We never regret one lap we had to run! God is gracious! His reward, His heaven, is worth all the sacrifice, all the pain, all the grief, all the agony!
“Run!” the witnesses say. Run! Run! Run! To the weary these witnesses say: don’t give up! To those trying to carry weights and beset by their sinful nature they say: Lay that aside, and put on the new man in Christ! Run! Faint not!
Finally, and fundamentally, there is this incentive, this encouragement to run. Jesus, our Savior: His running is more than just an example to follow. By His running He saved us. Jesus ran, taking on Himself our weights, our burdens and sins, and the wrath of God for them. And before His race was finished He had broken His body and shed His blood on our behalf. His was the marathon of the Mediator: run from a lowly manger up the hill Golgotha and down into the gorge of hell!
Wonderfully, this One, Jesus, won His race. He satisfied completely the justice of God. He is crowned with great glory and honor. And He has, by His atoning race, earned the right to be the Author, the source of our faith.
And now from heaven He gives faith joining us to Himself. We rely on Him totally, looking unto Him all the way, confessing as we run, that “it is not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth but of God that showeth mercy.” And He finishes that faith. He perfects it and us. He preserves us in it. He will lead us along the course we must run to the finish line and perfect holiness and inexpressible glory in heaven.
So we continue to run, with courage and hope. There is still the struggle, the striving, the sin, the sorrow. But the victory is sure in Christ Jesus. Run, believer! Look up in the race. Look to the finish line. Have hope. For with every grace-given stride your final and glorious victory draws nigh. Run!