Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
In many ways, the Christian walk is like a race. The comparison is made several times in the New Testament, and this is just one of those examples. Initially I was going to focus this blog post on all of the verses that speak of this comparison, but once I actually started drafting my thoughts, I realized this one passage in Hebrews touched on just about every point I wanted to make on its own!
A Cloud of Witnesses
This is referring back to the Hall of Faith in chapter 11: Abraham and Moses and David and so many other Biblical heroes, named and unnamed. Why were they heroes? Because of their faith in God and His promises. “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13).
Their stories should be an inspiration to us. Romans 15:4 says, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” Their examples of faith should encourage us to keep going. Their failures should be road signs along our path to keep us from stumbling into the same pits. Their successes should be the footprints in which we walk.
These Old Testament heroes did not receive the fullness of God’s salvation and the promise of eternal life – and yet they walked in the faith anyway. Can we not do the same?
This is not specifically mentioned in the passage, but when I read the phrase about the “cloud of witnesses,” I also think about companionship in our walk. We should be fellowshipping with other believers who can also encourage us to continue along our journey. “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up” (Ecc. 4:9-10).
Lay Aside Every Weight
For this section, I’m going to quote a short devotional written by Child Evangelism Fellowship. When I was young, I had a Precious Moments-themed Bible, and in that Bible, Hebrews 12:1 was highlighted and accompanied by this devotional, which I have never forgotten:
Bill’s friends called him to come and join in their race. Ten boys were going to race the length of the playground. First, Bill laid down the package he was carrying. After that, he emptied all his pockets, so that nothing would slow him down. Then he was ready to do his best!
The Christian life is like a race. You must lay aside anything that would keep you from doing your best. The Bible calls these things “weights” and “sin.” Each one of us has sin that we must lay aside or stay away from if we are to follow Jesus. It may be lying, cheating, bragging, swearing, or stealing. Perhaps you have a secret sin no one knows about. If you want your life to count for God, you must lay aside all sin. Look to Jesus, your captain. He will help you!
– “Order: Leave Sin Behind!”, pg. 1331 of the Precious Moments Bible
While we may have dropped our heavy burdens when we initially started following Christ, we are still holding onto certain sins. They may not be as visible and noticeable, but they are there nonetheless, slowing us down.
Do you have any pockets that you need to empty today?
Run with Endurance
I think that for a lot of believers, our journey with the Lord begins something like this:
We find ourselves, like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, kneeling at the foot of the cross. The next moment, our heavy burden of sin and guilt and condemnation is loosed from our shoulders and goes rolling down the hill into oblivion. We feel so light – so free! Pumped with excitement, we go sprinting up the narrow path, making progress quickly. . . until we find ourselves doubled over, panting for breath. After that, progress starts to go a little more slowly. Some will continue to lose momentum until eventually, they come to a near stand-still.
The Christian walk is not so much like a race as it is like a marathon. Or simply, a long journey. It doesn’t matter so much how long it takes you to reach the finish line as it does that you actually reach it. Dropouts don’t get a prize. This is a race that’s not about speed – no one can sustain a sprint in the long run, anyway. Part of the journey includes knowing when to take rest periods to be re-energized. Even Jesus took time to be alone in prayer.
The goal is to keep going and never give up. If you run too hard, you’ll wear yourself out, but if you rest too long, you won’t get very far. There has to be a balance between learning and doing, resting and working.
No matter how fast you move, you have to stay on the path. Don’t try to take shortcuts – they just end up taking longer. And don’t spend all your energy doing something that you’re not supposed to be doing, or you’ll find yourself jogging in place without getting anywhere.
But do run! Run the race, don’t give up, and press on toward the goal. Even though you don’t have to finish first in order to get the prize, run the best you can anyway. “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it for a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. . .” (1 Cor. 9:24-26a)
Looking Unto Jesus
And what is the goal in this race?
Paul wrote about the goal in his letter to the Phillipians:
“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us”
(Phil. 3:12-14, New Living Translation).
Press on toward the goal of Jesus – of being like Him, and of meeting Him finally at the finish line. Set your focus on Him. Look to Him as the supreme example and the greatest goal. He endured the cross for us; surely we can endure this race for Him.
And it’s at the finish line that I would like to be able to say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).
Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the New King James Verison.