“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. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” (Heb. 12:1-3)
In the Grecian games, the footrace was first in the order of the events and first in importance. It was deliberately designed as an endurance contest. The race demanded, not brilliant starters, but stouthearted plodders. The word which is translated as “race” (agon) is actually where the athletic contest took place. It is a form of the Greek word agonia which referred to the arena of intense struggle and agony. The point the writer is making to his readers is that Christianity is a marathon, an endurance race for a lifetime.
And since we have a long way to run -- we don't want to be burdened down for the race. That’s why the text continues with “...let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us.” This race has eternal consequences, and we don't want anything to get in the way. “Weight” would be anything that would prevent us from going the distance, especially sin! The English Standard Ver- sion words this phrase as “the sin which clings so closely.” Sin deceives us, trips us up, and never wants to let us loose. But the writer says we must cast aside all obstacles if we want to successfully run this marathon.
Of course, we do not run the race unaided. All about us is “so great a cloud of witnesses” -- the Old Testament heroes who have already had their faith commended by God (Heb. 11:39). Having finished their course, they are now, figuratively speaking, the spectators who are cheering us on in our race of faith.
And there is another great source of encouragement. “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.” (Heb. 12:2) Here the writer paints a picture of Jesus crucified. We see Jesus’ faith in the agonia - the arena of intense struggle and agony. His example is the greatest of them all. So we must run our race “looking unto Jesus.” The Greek word for “looking unto” means to look away from every- thing else and fix one’s eyes on Jesus. We must look neither to the right nor to the left (Prov 4:23-27) nor behind (Luke 9:62) but only straight ahead to the One who is waiting for us at the end of the race. Jesus is “the author (pioneer) and finisher (perfecter) of our faith.” He is the pioneer (Heb 2:10) because He blazed the trail and opened the way before us. He is the perfecter of our faith because He gave faith its fullest expression. He perfectly modeled faith.
When we fix our gaze on the crucified Jesus, then we discover the secret of running the race with endurance. How did Christ, our su- preme example of faith and suffering, finish His course? By focusing on “the joy” that later would be His. He “endured the cross” and despised its shame. The horror of crucifixion was equaled only by the disgrace of it. It was a death for slaves and criminals. The victim was stripped of his clothing and fixed to the cross. Hanging helplessly, he was defenseless against the natural elements and the shame of exposure. But Jesus endured it. And He realized His joy when He took His seat “at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Heaven awaits us! And Hebrews 12:3 reminds us to “consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” The message of He- brews is one of encouragement to “hang in there.” Don’t let anything prevent you from reaching the finish line!