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.
After having given so many examples of strong, unwavering faith from the Old Testament (Hebrews 11), the Hebrew author now encourages his readers to stay the course. Remember, these Hebrew Christians were being persecuted by their fellow Jews for being Christians, a religion which the Jews considered blasphemous and heretical. These Christians were undergoing “a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated” (Hebrews 10:32-33). Some of them were thrown in prison for their faith, while others had their property taken from them (Hebrews 10:34). They were in “need of endurance” (Hebrews 10:36).
So after using numerous Old Testament examples – “so great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) – to remind them of what real faith was and the sacrifices it required so that they would remember that others had also gone through similar struggles, now the Hebrew writer points them to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). In doing so he reminds them that just like their fellow servants of God in the Old Testament, they were running in a race, “the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). The apostle Paul used a similar analogy in his letter to the church at Corinth: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
Paul wanted to receive that “imperishable wreath,” that “crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing,” when he had “finished the race” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). That’s why he ran the Christian race in a way so that he would win that prize. He knew that self-control was needed, as was purpose, discipline, and diligent consistency (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27). In like manner, the Hebrew author told the Christians to whom he wrote that they too needed to run the race by “lay(ing) aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” (Hebrews 12:1). Both his and Paul’s exhortations are in the Bible to remind the Christians of today of these same needs. The weights of sin – perhaps man-made religious traditions that supersede God’s Word (Matthew 15:1-9), fear of persecution or mockery (John 7:11-13), selfishness (2 Timothy 3:1-5), bitterness and resentment (Matthew 18:23-35), ungodliness (Psalm 1:4-6), or whatever they may be – must be cast off so that we may run with greater speed and endurance towards the prize of eternal life with God.
Jesus, the “founder” (source, leader) and “perfecter” (finisher, one who completes) of our faith, is the greatest example of faith that results in endurance through suffering. His faith is the origin of “the joy that was set before him,” the confident trust that sitting “at the right hand of the throne of God” as our King and Savior was waiting for him. That is what gave him the motivation he needed to “endure the cross” and “despise the shame” that came with it. By doing so, he shows us the way. As he said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).
What struggles are you facing because of your allegiance to Christ, Christian? Is it mockery? Ostracism? Scorn? Are you facing financial difficulties? A loss of a job or a promotion? Contempt and desertion from beloved members of your family? Could even death be coming because of your faith? Whatever it is, keep running the race. Keep enduring. Keep your eye on the joy set before you, eternal life in heaven and the wonderful words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”