17 Hebrews 12v1-3 The Christian Race

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In Ch.12 the writer begins to exhort his readership
to persevere. In doing so he encourages them to
think of themselves as athletes competing in the
“Olympics” or an equivalent.
The idea of the Christian life as a race is one often
employed by Paul cf. 1 Cor. 9v24-27, Phil. 1v29ff., 1
Tim 6v12 and 2Tim 4v6-8.
Who are the cloud of witnesses referred to in v1?
The saints who have run ahead of us and reached
the finishing tape. Cf. Rev. 12v11. The author is
referring back to those mentioned in the hall of
fame listed in Ch. 11!
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The Spectators
The presence of these witnesses should
inspire all Christian athletes, including the
current readership, because their faith has
triumphed over adversity. Their example
should be an encouragement to us to keep
on going. Their presence is saying, “The race
is not impossible press on, press on!”
When competing in a race it is important to
be correctly dressed otherwise your running
will be impeded. Two different categories of
impediment are identified at this point.
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a. ‘things which hinder’. A reference to unnecessary
clothing which requires to be stripped off. You don’t
expect to see anyone running a race in a fur coat, a
suit or high heels!
Greek athletes were required to strip naked for the
games and this analogy would not be lost o the
readers. Christian athletes are to strip off from their
lives anything that would impede their progress:
not necessarily only sinful things. There are
legitimate things to which we can give too much
time and attention. Think of the parable of the soils
which speaks of ‘the cares of this world...’ many of
which would be considered legitimate cares.
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b. ‘sin that entangles’. Sin can slow the
Christian down sometimes to a snails pace in
the Christian race. Picture a rope tangled
around an athlete’s legs or their trying to run
with their shoelaces tied together or with a
ball and chain manacled to your legs.
Sin will always impede our progress. This is
why it needs to be dealt with so radically. We
need to become untangled cf. Gal. 5v16-25...
Rom. 7v14-15...
Pause to think of things from either category
which might impede your own progress?
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The Distance
The writer clearly does not see this race as a sprint.
That is not the race that God has set out for his
people. Rather it is a life-long marathon. Such a
race has its own particular difficulties. Marathon
runners talk of the ‘pain barrier’ which they have
to run through!
Therefore, one of the most important qualities for
such an athlete is perseverance! And so dealing
not only with the sin that entangles but with the
legitimate things that hinder our spiritual
progress is the key to perseverance.
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The Momentum
The Hebrew Christians had made a good start
as 10v32-34 made clear but their pace had
since slackened and their effort has been
decreasing cf. 2v1.
In addition, sin has been holding them back
3v17-4v1. They needed to recover their
intensity of purpose 4v11 and shake off the
sluggish mood into which they had fallen
6v11ff. in order to regain their confidence
10v35,39 and their competitive spirit 12v12.
It was said of Mallory, who disappeared in his
Everest expedition, that when he was last
seen he was, still climbing!
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Their Goal
The fact that the readers were performing in the
presence of veterans of the faith should have
reminded them both of the seriousness of the
contest and of its goal which is not fixed in time
but in eternity.
Sprinters are often encouraged to keep their eyes
on the finishing tape; to refuse to be distracted by
anything else. In distance events the runner is
encouraged to look out for his coach, the one who
has trained him and planned the race strategy with
him. Do you see the significance of their being
asked to keep our eyes on Jesus the AUTHOR
and PERFECTER of their faith?
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Their Goal
Jesus is not simply a coach who understands racing theory
but someone who has himself actually triumphed in this
race. Only he has run the perfect race and indeed he was the
first one to reach the finishing line in the race to glory
through the suffering of death. He is the one best equipped
to guide other athletes to the tape.
There is a beautiful example of this in Acts 7.55ff. when
Stephen was about to be martyred. Jesus is both the goal
and the prize of the Christian athlete. cf. Phil. 3v8 and Heb.
11v26. Jesus is presented as the one who stimulates faith.
He is the author of our faith because he is the pioneer of our
salvation Heb.2v10. In addition he prays that our faith will
not fail Lk. 22v31.
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Their Example
But more than this, by looking to Jesus they would be
looking to the One who was the supreme exemplar
of their faith. No one knows what it means to
persevere under trial more than Jesus. The words ‘he
endured the cross and despised the shame’, would
unpack themselves in the minds of these readers. His
was a unique and solitary struggle; great loneliness
marked his race in a way that it will never mark ours.
Jesus runs our race alongside us. We are assured of
his presence. We will never experience, “The
loneliness of a long distance runner”. Can you think
of the encouragement this should minister to our
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The Example
What helped Jesus to keep going. He knew
the importance of fixing his eyes on the goal
ahead, and so, ‘the joy that was set before
him’. For Jesus the cross was the gateway to
joy and of being seated as the God-man at
the right hand of the Father.
The cross is also our gateway to joy. As we
endure the suffering and persecution that
comes our way for Christ’s sake then we
enter into his sufferings. And to enter into his
sufferings also means to enter into his joy.
The two are inextricably bound together.
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The Example
In v3 the writers argument moves from the “greater”
to the “lesser”. From Jesus’ perseverance under
suffering to his people’s perseverance under
suffering. The writer is saying, ‘If you are tempted to
throw in the towel then consider all that he endured
for you. The endurance to which you are called is
trivial by comparison’.
The struggle of the Hebrew readership had not only
been less demanding than that of Jesus but also of
the many of the martyrs who had gone before. These
people had so far not been tested to the point of
laying down their lives. Matt. 10v28.
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Wavering Commitment
It was of course the prospect of what might happen
to them - potential suffering - that was causing some
to waver in their commitment to Christ. But even if
they should experience the realisation of their worst
fears, the laying down of their lives for Jesus, that in
itself is a small thing in comparison with what he had
suffered for their sake!
Clearly, dropping out of the race was not the solution
to their problem. Indeed, that would simply serve to
heighten their problem.
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Wavering Commitment
How would dropping out exacerbate their
problem? Well to disassociate themselves from
Jesus, as the only Saviour from sin, would be to
turn their backs upon what was the only entrance
into the Father’s glory.
“There is no reason for us to seek our discharge
from the Lord whatever service we have
performed because Christ does not have any
discharged soldiers except those who have
conquered death itself.”
John Calvin
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