Sunday, December 30, 2012


Hebrews 12:1-11

Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.  –Hebrews 12:1-2


Faith Is Endurance

12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 3  Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children —"My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; 6 for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts." 7 Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? 8 If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. 9 Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. 11 Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.


The early Christians were tired. They had been running the race of faith as though they had been running sprints in the heat of the day. They were tired, their legs hurt, and whatever fancy energy gel packets they carried were long gone. The people had earned the right to be tired. They'd expected the return of Christ to happen quickly, but they had seen no proof that anything was different in the world. A person can only keep giving 100 percent when he or she believes that change is coming. This is something we understand. Who would keep up with a weight-loss program that didn't show any results? Who would pour one's whole self into a work project with no belief that the boss would notice?

Here comes the coach saying, "Don't you even think about quitting yet! This race matters!"

Our coach is clever. He doesn't start out telling us about all the hard work we're going to have to put in. Instead, he gives us a great reason to run the race at all: There are so many people watching! They're great people! How much harder would a high school football player work if he knew everyone in the stadium was an NFL Hall of Famer? The author of Hebrews wants to inspire the same kind of passion and energy in us. The people watching us are the ones that have already run the race well. The New Century Version renders v. 1 this way: "We are surrounded by a great cloud of people whose lives tell us what faith means." Of course, we want to do the very best that we can with all these greats watching our journey.



The first piece of wisdom that our coach offers us is "Lose the weight!" He's clear: whatever is holding us back has to go. Of course, the coach's advice makes sense. That doesn't necessarily make it any easier for us to get rid of what's holding us back. If we're going to run this race well, then we're going to need to get rid of the guilt and hardheartedness. We're going to have to let go of anything that isn't helping us get to the finish line, including our sinful habits.

The next piece of wisdom the coach offers us we know well. Every coach and motivational speaker we've met says, "Eyes on the prize!" Before we even find out what the prize is, we know where our attention is supposed to be. Any of us who have ever tried to walk (or do anything else for that matter) while looking behind us can testify that so doing is the quickest way to trip over our own feet. Coach reminds us that we don't have the time to keep looking back.

What is the prize that we're working so hard to see? It's a relationship with Jesus, lived out in faith. It's being like Jesus in all that we do. There is something else worth noting here. The fact that we're looking toward a goal means we're not just strolling along. We're not tourists. This is serious business that necessitates a change in our frame of mind.

Jesus is not only the prize. Jesus is the one who teaches us how to run the race. Here again, we realize how clever our coach is. Just as we are about to begin serious whining, Coach sets the example of Christ before us. If we are going to begin complaining about how hard our path is, then we need to watch the films of Jesus' race. Instead of a gold medal, Jesus got a crown of thorns. Jesus wasn't hailed; he was humiliated. Even though Jesus knew the race would end that way, the knowledge didn't keep him from the journey.

"So," Coach says, "if Jesus can have that much endurance, so must you."

The race metaphor works well to a point. We want to be like Jesus. We want to do the things that please God. Yet a shadow can be cast over our obedience when life becomes hard. When dark days come, we clench our fists and question the heavens. "Why is it so hard?" we ask. If we don't get the answer we want as quickly as we'd like, our cries turn to "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"


The writer of Hebrews has played the role of coach in the first few verses, but his tone shifts in v. 5. After he has told us to quit whining, he takes off his coach's hat. Now the writer pulls up a chair next to us and addresses us as dear friends. The writer understands that we're tired and discouraged. He knows we need a compassionate word and offers us one. It is not, however, the word we expected.

"Endure trials for the sake of discipline." These words give us a lens through which to view our suffering. The writer, as only a dear friend could, wants to give us a constructive way to view our suffering: What if we regard this discipline as coming from a father who loves us more than anything else?

During biblical times, the father was the head of the household. No matter how old or well respected the children grew to be, they were still under the authority of the father. The original audience for these words in Hebrews would have understood that when we are called "sons" it would have meant that we are family.

Parents tangle with their children because they love them. Parents correct their children because they don't want them to harm themselves or others. God corrects us in this same spirit.


The word discipline has several meanings. On the one hand, discipline is a way of correction. On the other hand, it is something that we undertake voluntarily to make ourselves stronger, better, or more able. Pianists play scales for hours a day. Athletes do sprints and climb hills. God's discipline encompasses both meanings. God wants to teach us and better us, so God corrects us. Through this correction, God encourages us to change. Just like the serious musician, we seek the self-control that God intends. It is with that in mind that the writer of Hebrews asks us to persevere.

We don't take this journey idly. We travel with all the intensity and seriousness of a disciplined athlete, mindful of our coach's encouragement and lessons. When we falter on the path, we have a loving parent who will correct our focus until we can seek out the correct behavior on our own. Every hardship and obstacle strengthens us and prepares to be made in the image of Christ. In so doing, we draw close to God and faithfully live our lives with endurance, being cheered on by those who have journeyed before us.


What does "We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses" mean to you?

Is being surrounded by a cloud of witnesses a source of comfort and encouragement, or does it make you fearful?

Who have you judged to have "gone far from the lord"? Were you mistaken?


Living God, author and perfecter of our faith, grant that we may follow hard and fast after you. Teach us to follow your example and to look to you for strength when we are ready to give up. Encourage us in your service, and strengthen us through our worship together. Amen.

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From The Present Word © 2011 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.