Hannah Butler, Event Operations Coordinator
“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. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
– Hebrews 12:1-3
I want to take a few moments to unpack some of the language in these verses, and hopefully it will be an encouragement to you!
God Will Not Abandon His People
The author and the recipient of this letter are unknown, but what we gather from the letter is that the “Hebrews” are a group of Jewish Christians who are undergoing severe persecution and imprisonment because of their association with Jesus. This was causing some to walk away from Jesus and abandon their faith altogether. So the author writes this letter to tell them that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God’s love and mercy and that God will never abandon them. Good news, right?
Notice that the whole passage is built around this metaphor of a sporting event. The author is drawing a comparison between a sporting event and suffering. So each word or phrase used in this passage has layered meaning. The phrase “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” can obviously, in a sports context, be referring to the spectators, or the fans. The author wants to remind them that the heroes of the Christian faith are cheering them on, and that it is an honor to stand in the legacy of those who have gone before us following Jesus, some even unto death. The transliteration of the word “witness” in the Greek is “martys,” the same root that we get the word “martyr” from.
The author tells them to lay aside every weight or burden. Do you have things weighing on you in this season? Maybe it’s a financial burden, or a relational burden, or even a physical burden. The author also says lay aside sin, “which clings so closely.” Sin is anything that comes between you and your relationship with the Father. That’s the enemy’s main goal – to get you as far away from God as he can, because he knows that’s your real strength. Lay aside anything that’s heavy or keeps you from getting close to Jesus.
Why do we lay these things aside? The author tells us it’s so we can run with endurance. Everybody knows that the team that’s in better shape can run circles around their opponent, and therefore win. Some of the other words used for endurance in the Bible are “steadfastness,” “patience,” and “hopeful waiting.” You’ve probably heard this word used in Scripture before, as Paul talks about endurance in his letter to the Romans …
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
Hopeful waiting. We train and strengthen ourselves for situations like these so that our character is strong enough to produce hope.
The Founder and Perfecter
The second part of this passage lays out how Jesus was the perfect example of someone who laid aside anything that kept him from doing the will of his Father. He ran with endurance. So what does it mean that Jesus was the author of our faith? The word in the Greek can be translated as “prince,” “captain” or “pioneer.” Jesus is the first cause of our faith. He blazed the trail of faith, showing us what it means to trust our heavenly Father with our whole lives. The author also calls him the perfecter of our faith. This word in Greek can be translated as “finisher” or “completer.” His sacrificial death on a cross, and his resurrection three days later, completed the mission of God.
The Mission of God
In verse two, it says that it was “for the joy set before him” that Jesus went to the cross. The joy set before him was you. The mission of God has always been and will always be having a relationship with his people. He wants to come close to you. He was willing to endure the shame that was associated with death on a cross, because he knew it meant he would get you.
The passage goes on to say that now Jesus is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. To be seated at the right hand of someone is to be seated in a position of honor and authority.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul says that Jesus is at the right hand of God “interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). He knows exactly how you are feeling, he knows exactly what you need, and he goes to the Father on your behalf. Jesus is the reason that we have access to the Father, which is access to unconditional love and mercy.
The Race Set Before Us
The race set before all of us looks a little different. For some, it’s wondering where the next paycheck will come from, or how long until you can secure a job. For others, it’s finding the motivation to finish the semester well and overcome apathy. And still others might be consumed with fear over the thought of disease and death that surrounds them. How long will we have to live like this?
In verse three it tells us to “consider” what Jesus did, so that we won’t grow “weary or fainthearted.”
If you hear one thing, hear this: There is strength in remembering Jesus.
He made it possible for us to endure situations like this, and to flourish in them! Without him, it all falls apart. Remember him, and find rest, peace and strength.
Hannah was born and raised in Colorado, but moved to Newberg about a year and a half ago with one of her best friends because they felt God was asking them to come do ministry together. So they did! They’ve grown very fond of this little town that they live and work in, and are amazed at the work the Lord is doing here, in Newberg.
Fun fact: the sun shines for about 300 days out of the year in Colorado, her friends here in Oregon made fun of her the first year she lived here because any time the sun came out, she would sprint outside just to be in it for a few minutes. Other fun things that she didn’t know about Oregon were how stunning the landscapes are. She didn’t know that magical forests with waterfalls actually existed like in the movies. And of course Burgerville, a Pacific Northwest treasure. She is grateful for Burgerville.