Meditations in Hebrews 12: 47. Jesus Focus
Heb 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
The link with the previous chapter: We have jumped to chapter 12, we said, because we have previously covered chapter 11 in a separate series called ‘Focusing Faith’, but our opening verse of this chapter refers back to all that “cloud of witnesses” that made up chapter 11. We have said previously that stating our testimony is not only powerful in respect of impacting others, but it also strengthens our own faith to think back on what God has gone for us personally and be able to put that into words. Now, he implies, all these people I have called to mind in the previous chapter should act as a tremendous host of witnesses, people who speak about their encounters with God, and as such they challenge and strengthen our faith.
The effect of those witnesses: It is an interesting expression he uses, a “cloud” of witnesses. No, they are not real or alive today but they come to us from the past reminding us of their encounters with God. Clouds are up in the heavens and these are believers in heaven who still speak to us today. This is one of the values of having a written record of these lives, we have it before us and can refer to it again and again and in so doing we are stirred and strengthened. But he uses this picture of all these people from the past, as we have said, to stir and strengthen us, so that yet again he is both warning us and challenging us and encouraging us to keep going in our walk with God. Look at those things in this first verse.
The warning: against “sin that so easily entangles” An act of sin rarely is just a one-off quick act that is forgotten. Whether we realise it or not, when we sin we go against the indwelling Holy Spirit and He will be grieved. But even more we have to overcome our own conscience to sin and so we are weakened; we make excuses and until we repent we become more vulnerable to further temptations. But then so often a sin has ongoing effect. We sin and try to cover it up and the cover-up involves a lie or further action to try to keep it hidden. The illustration of David and Bathsheba is an apt one.
The challenge: to “throw off everything that hinders”. What are the things in our lives that distract us, that fill up our time. We can’t go to the Bible Study because our favourite TV program is on. We can’t get involved with outreach activities because we’re too busy with friends. We can’t have a quiet time because we say we need the sleep. There can be so many things that slow up our spiritual lives and he challenges us to identify them and get rid of them.
The encouragement: “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” God has got a path marked out for us, He will show it to us and so all we have to do is hang on in there and keep going, i.e. persevere, and He will give us the grace to be able to do that. We can be a winner. We can be victorious; that is God’s intent for us. This is our writer yet again exercising his pastoral heart to keep these Jewish Christians on track. It is not a legalistic thing but a heart thing. He has them on his heart and he is aware, as we have seen, that the days are difficult and so these believers need encouragement or warning again and again. The warning is the negative side – the thing to be avoided that might pull us down so we lose the wonder of our inheritance. The encouragement is the positive side that says, “You can do it!” and urges us on to higher ground, to a place of greater strength, of greater assurance, of greater blessing.
The encouragement of Jesus: So now he gives us fuel to do this. He has used one thing – the testimonies of the Old Testament saints – and now he returns, as a second means of encouragement, to the ultimate heart of this letter, the life being and ministry of Jesus Christ: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (v.2)
Back in 3:1 he had encouraged us to “fix your thoughts on Jesus,” and now he says “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus,” which is slightly stronger. Both of them said ‘fix’, i.e. anchor your thinking and your vision on him, don’t let go of your thoughts about him in your Christian faith because it is all about him. Jesus, he says, is the author or originator of your faith (through his work on the Cross), but he is also the perfecter of your faith, the one who will help you keep on until you enter into all that your salvation means.
But then he points out how Jesus had done it, and we noted this recently: “for the joy set before him” – for the wonder of all that would follow – “endured the Cross” i.e. he looked beyond the awful experience of the Cross that confronted him to what would be the other side of it and that sustained him and helped him remain true to his task.
He adds, “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (v.3) If Jesus could handle opposition, with his help, so can we. This is not academic theory but practical reality. Jesus has walked this path and overcame, and so he now walks it with us if we have to walk it. He understands all you are going through and his grace and power (his Holy Spirit) is there within you to enable you to walk it in the same way.
Do you see the similarity between this and the people of chapter 11. They were saints (believers) who so often had to walk difficult paths and they overcame with God’s help. The Lord does not ask us to walk it alone for, as we will see later, He says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Heb 13:5) We are not alone! Hallelujah!