Run with Endurance (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Topic: One Truth: Walk in Truth Passage: Hebrews 12:1–2
I. The World's Hardest Races
How do these sound to you?
“This course traverses 5 loops of over 20 miles each in the backwoods of Tennessee. Runners have to negotiate a treacherous unmarked trail on the steep slopes of Frozen Head State Park. There are 60,000 feet of elevation as well as soul-destroying mind games to deal with along the along the way. No 2 loops are ever the same.” [okay, maybe these are more your speed...]
“...Running in the heart of the Sahara Desert takes it to a new level. When you sign up for the Marathon des Sables, you're in for the long haul. The route comprises 370 miles of hot, sandy terrain with daytime temperatures in the 120's.” [or]
“The Iditarod Trail Invitational 1000 (that's 1000 miles) is one of the longest and toughest races in the world that takes place during the winter. Set in Knik, Alaska, this will-testing marathon will have you facing temperatures ranging from -50°F to 35°F, rain, gale-force winds, blizzards, mud, waist-deep snow, and more.”
“Going to the other extreme, the Jungle Marathon takes place over... 150 miles in the depths of the Amazon. It's more of a scramble than a run with vines, swamps, and trees to disrupt your flow...Twisted ankles, intense humidity, and wild animals are par for the course.”
These are just some of the world's most difficult foot races. They are examples of what's come to be known as endurance running, and as you can tell, it isn't for the faint of heart.
This morning, God's word presents us with yet another difficult race. Let's look at that race together as we turn over to a passage from our Our Daily Reading Plan last week, Hebrews 12.
II. The Passage: “Let Us Run ” (12:1-2)
Having just coming out of a lengthy chapter focused on faith, listen to how the writer here encourages his readers to press forward in their faith. Verses 1 and 2...
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.
As you just heard, the main thrust of this passage is not difficult to grasp. It simply uses popular imagery in the ancient world, the imagery of a footrace, to describe your journey of faith.
This imagery also isn't unusual in the New Testament. Paul does the same thing in I Corinthians 9:24, where he writes...
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.
Even at the end of his life, this same analogy was useful: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (II Timothy 4:7)
But to really understand the fullness of this passage, let me suggest three ideas that I believe are helpful in making sense of these verses in the immediate context, and the broader context of this book. Those three ideas are preparation, inspiration, and determination.
Before we unpack those, let me re-read the second of half of verse 1: the writer calls his readers to run with endurance the race that is set before us. Notice that the race we're talking about is “the race that is set before us”. It's not the track we choose. It's not one we design. It's not the one we prefer, or one we simply stumble upon. It's not simply the 'rat race', nor is it necessarily synonymous with that particular course that's been wearing you down. The track is simply “set before us”. As we shall see, this track is both divinely-designed and well-worn.
1. Preparation (v. 1b)
But look at how, in the middles of verse 1, the author talks about the preparation necessary for running this race of faith. Just as ancient runners would strip down to run completely unhindered, the author of Hebrews calls his readers to also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely.
There are both good things and bad things in our lives that will weigh us down or trip us up when it comes to pressing forward in faith. For example, giving undue weight to the opinions of others or undue attention to human agendas can be just as distracting and restrictive as drunkenness of sexual immorality or greed or deceitfulness.
A question like, 'Which sins are currently clinging to my heart”, is an important question. Remember the author's exhortation in Hebrews 3:13... But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. But I think12:1 encourages us to ask a broader question: “Who or what is hindering me or weighing me down when it comes to running God's course of faith?” What have you allowed in, what have you tolerated, what have you sheltered or harbored, what have you fed, what have you exalted that God is now calling you to “lay aside”? Brother, sister, friend, do you hear him this morning” “It's time. It's time to lay it aside. It's time to run unencumbered.”
2. Inspiration (vs. 1a, 2a)
The second idea that is helpful in understanding this passage is the idea of inspiration. The author here is encouraging his audience to be inspired. Just as an athlete may have been inspired by those athletes who came before him, every follower of Jesus is called to draw inspiration from those who ran the race of faith before us. This idea of inspiration actually brackets our passage this morning.
The first 'inspirational' bracket actually points us backward, to the content of chapter 11. The first word of verse 1 is a connector or 'bridge' word, isn't it? “Therefore”. What are we to take from chapter 11? The fact that right now, we are “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses”. Who are these witnesses?: They are the Old Testament men and women highlighted in chapter 11, people like Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Rahab, and David.
In the context of this footrace imagery are we to imagine these old covenant characters as viewers in an arena? I don't think so. The word here “witnesses” is the Greek word from which we get our English word martyr. You see, they are not looking to us. We should be looking to them. Why? Because they have witnessed to the truth through their exemplary faith. This is why they should inspire us when it comes to “the race that is set before us”. In a very powerful sense, it's the same race they ran.
But as I mentioned, there's a end bracket of inspiration here. Even more effective than looking back to those faithful men and women who served God under the old covenant is looking up to one who is (9:15) “the mediator of a new covenant”. We are to run, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith”. Those OT saints might provide us with powerful pictures of faith, but only Jesus can be called “the founder and perfecter of our faith”. What do those titles mean? Well, this isn't the first time we've heard these two words. Listen to Hebrews 2:10...
For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.
It is accurate to say that Jesus was everything we needed, but also became everything we needed when it comes to faith. Though the titles we find in 12:2 are rare terms and not always easy to pin down, in the context here, the general sense of what the author is saying is clear: Jesus has run the race as well, and his victory has made all the difference.
3. Determination (vs. 1c, 2b)
And that point brings us to our third and final idea: determination. The key word in all this is the word we find in both verse 1 and verse 2: “endurance” or “endured”. The appeal of the author and the call of God in these verses is not simply to “run”, it's to “run with endurance”.
And that's exactly what Jesus did, isn't it? He was determined. He was committed. He persevered through suffering after suffering, even in the face of, the experience of, a shameful death. Look back at verse 2: Jesus... 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.
Brothers and sisters, this is absolutely central to everything the writer has been telling his readers, in light of every concern that prompted him to write. We know both inspiration and determination are central to the author's point here. Just look at verse 3 of chapter 12. What does it mean to 'look to Jesus'? It means we...
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
As one commentator expressed it: “[Christ's] endurance of hostility from those who were blind to God's redemptive design and their own welfare provides a paradigm for the community of faith whenever it encounters hostility from society.” (William L. Lane)
Speaking of this community of faith, of these original readers, the writer's concern here and his readers' experiences were spelled out clearly two chapters earlier in Hebrews 10:32–39. Listen to how he encourages them...
But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings,  sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated...  Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.  For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised...  ….we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls
III. Spiritual Endurance Running
Brothers and sisters, do you hear the voice of God in your heart this morning? “For you have need of endurance...” What is the Christian faith? What is discipleship to Jesus? It is spiritual endurance running. The hardest races in the world (whether in deep jungle, baking sands, or the freezing cold) cannot compare to the spiritual course that has been “set before us”. And that course requires, not physical endurance, but endurance through faith.
Please ask yourself this, “What will it mean for me to 'run with endurance'”? This is not simply a message for those of you who are thinking about abandoning your faith (if that's even the case this morning). No. This message is for every single one of us who 'shrinks back' in doubt instead of enduring in faith. And I think that covers everyone. I know that even now God is convicting many of you about ways you are shrinking back, and how isolated instances are turning into patterns. What is God word to you this morning? It's this...
Practice preparation. Look into the mirror of his word daily, but don't forget what you see there. Respond to God's conviction. Confess sin. Repent, don't rationalize. Receive and rejoice in God's grace. Practicing preparation also means identify things that you may deem as good or maybe neutral, but that are nevertheless weighing you down when it comes to running the race. Bring those to God. And talk with someone about the struggle. God is also calling us to...
Draw inspiration. Don't simply read God's word as an account of fascinating people in far off places. Read it as your family story, and a catalog of your spiritual heroes. Ask yourself regularly “What can I learn about faith from this or that character?” Pray and ask God to help you walk in faith like Abraham, like Moses, like Rahab or Esther, and best of all, like Jesus. Finally...
Seek determination. Decide this morning that God's will for you is not settling for a life of compromise while still holding on to some kind of assurance because you once prayed a prayer. No. Accept that the Christian life is a footrace, a challenging reality by which God consistently calls us to persevere.
But in all of this, do the very thing the author of Hebrews has been urging his readers to do from the opening verses of this book: look to Jesus; consider Jesus; esteem Jesus; treasure Jesus. Jesus Christ is not simply the greatest inspiration in a long line of inspiring saints. Jesus ran a race unlike any other, and to him alone belongs the victory of victory. And it's that victory that makes all the difference in “the race that is set before us”. This is the fifth and final time that the author has mentioned Jesus sitting down (or seated) at “the right hand of God”. Why is that important? Because the endurance to which we are called is the endurance Jesus purchased for us by his own blood. Be encouraged this morning. Let us run, not to claim a possible victory, but in light of a definitive victory. Inspired. Reassured.
More in Our Bible Reading Plan (2021-2022)
October 2, 2022Visions of Jesus (Revelation 19:9-10)
September 25, 2022Why Justice is Worth Singing About (Revelation 15)
September 18, 2022How to Conquer the Dragon (Revelation 12:11)