Scripture: Hebrews 12:1-11
So then, with endurance, let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, 2 and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter. He endured the cross, ignoring the shame, for the sake of the joy that was laid out in front of him, and sat down at the right side of God’s throne.
3 Think about the one who endured such opposition from sinners so that you won’t be discouraged and you won’t give up. 4 In your struggle against sin, you haven’t resisted yet to the point of shedding blood, 5 and you have forgotten the encouragement that addresses you as sons and daughters:
My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline
or give up when you are corrected by him,
6 because the Lord disciplines whomever he loves,
and he punishes every son or daughter whom he accepts.
7 Bear hardship for the sake of discipline. God is treating you like sons and daughters! What child isn’t disciplined by his or her father? 8 But if you don’t experience discipline, which happens to all children, then you are illegitimate and not real sons and daughters. 9 What’s more, we had human parents who disciplined us, and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live? 10 Our human parents disciplined us for a little while, as it seemed best to them, but God does it for our benefit so that we can share his holiness. 11 No discipline is fun while it lasts, but it seems painful at the time. Later, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness for those who have been trained by it.
Theme- We are witnessed of Jesus both to the world and to each other
- How are we supposed to understand the race metaphor (verse 1)?
- Who makes up this “great cloud of witnesses” (verse 1) and what is their role?
- What is “the Lord’s discipline” (verse 5) and how does it help to positively motivate us?
- What does God’s discipline teach us about how we are to discipline others?
- How can a Christian actively engage the cheering section around them for encouragement and how do we actively encourage (witness to) fellow believers in our community?
He seeks to draw his hearers, who are, we have learned, weary and disheartened because of very real sufferings (10:32–34), into an enthusiastic participation in the pilgrimage of the people of faith toward the living God.
The metaphor of verse 1 is an Olympic marathon and the crowd of witnesses is not simply the crowd of fans observing the race they represent other athletes who have finished the race and can identify with the runners. The cloud knows the difficulties of the race and are there to motivate the runners to finish as they have.
One of the mantras of our world is “life is hard and then you die”, I find this saying to be full of pessimism and despair; I think this reflects the loneliness and isolation so many feel. The author of Hebrews, like other New Testament authors, understands this saying, he realizes life is indeed difficult and that death is the ending for us. The difference is that Hebrews like the rest of the New Testament lacks the despair implicit in this saying. Yes, life is difficult, it is like a marathon, a grueling event that takes mental and physical endurance to simply complete. But the author of Hebrews holds out a lifeline to us, a great cloud of witnesses.
Most athletic endeavors are inherently competitive, pitting one person against another, or one group against another, but there are certain competitions which encourage participants to contend more against themselves than others. I think of cross-country runners who will often finish a race and stand at the finish line to cheer on teammates and rivals as they complete the course. There is an understanding that the race is not against the opponents it is against the course and though everyone wants to win the race the real goal is to beat the course. This is the exact image behind Hebrews 12, the author presents us as running a race where competitors have already finished; examples are the saints listed in chapter 11. These saints are now gathered about cheering for us to overcome the difficulties and finish the race. These are people who understand the hardships of the course, they know the kind of mental and physical endurance it takes simply to cross the finish line and they are supporting us every step of the way. Their stories encourage us, their struggles warn us, their achievements inspire us, and their prayers continue to lift us up.
Witness is an important part of the Christian life, though typically we only speak of witness in terms of reaching out to non-believers. But witness is important to believers, we live off the stories of others, they inspire us to continue to press on when life is difficult. I have never run a marathon, but I have been told there are points during the run that what keeps a person going is simply the desire to complete the course, and that desire can be strengthened by knowing others are going through it with you. I have experienced a similar situation in soccer or basketball practices, grueling endeavors that push your body to a breaking point but seeing teammates suffering with you can help to give you the endurance to push through. But the Christian life is not simply about living to the end, it is about living out the morality that Christ modeled for us and expects from us. Completing the race is not simply dying and ending life, it is living a moral life from the time you meet Jesus until you die. Anyone can live and die, Christ calls us to live well until we die, this is the race, this is what needs training, and this is where we need encouragement. We need the encouragement that we will be able to live out Jesus’ moral vision until the very end and we are called home.
The Christian life needs teammates, people who can push us and cheer for us as we run the race of life. We need people who are further down the race cheering for us to keep going, this is witnessing to the faithful. Who are these witnesses in your life, training partners who encourage you to keep going? And our lives well lived should be examples for others as they continue their race. It is easy to think that we do not enter that cloud of witnesses until we pass into glory but in a very real sense as we live life well, we become witnesses for those around us to push on. As you run the race set before you look for the people who can motivate you to continue on this journey because it is long and difficult and we need partners on the journey.
 Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews: A Commentary, ed. C. Clifton Black, M. Eugene Boring, and John T. Carroll, 1st ed., The New Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 312.
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