The 2020 Summer Olympics, (held one year later in Tokyo, Japan due to the Pandemic) were recently completed. This major international multi-sport event is held every four years.
As we consider Hebrews 12, the setting of a great sports stadium can be imagined. Verse 1 talks about the great cloud of witnesses. The ancient Greek word for cloud in this verse was a figure of speech for a large group. These superheroes listed in chapter 11 and down through the ages are witnesses TO US of faith and endurance. Just as a high school gymnasium has mounted pictures of past all-state athletes with a listing of their sports accomplishments to inspire the current sports players, so we can picture our Faith Superheroes encircling us and cheering us on.
Verse 1 continues, instructing us to throw off every hindrance “and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Here we see the sports analogy clearly stated—run the race set before us. A runner wouldn’t compete in bulky clothes that carry extra weight and slow his time. We too need to lay aside conflicting interests that take us away from our “run with God.” We also must be wary of “the sin which so easily entangles us.” Habits or actions that become so addictive, we don’t give them a second thought, can trap us like a spider web. How many times do we pick up our phone instead of praying or offering God praise?
Instead, verse 2 tells us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of faith.” What a beautiful description of Jesus we don’t often contemplate. Jesus, our ultimate superhero, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Every runner pictures his/her victory, and so we keep our eyes on Jesus, our coming king, bringing the prize of the kingdom with him. Jesus saw the “joy” to come as he suffered unimaginable horrors on the cross. Our faith race has twists and turns, challenges and difficulties, but when we picture the end result, as Jesus did, we will “not grow weary and lose heart.” (verse 3)
Going back to the 2020 Summer Olympics, according to Wikipedia, “the Games featured 339 events in 33 different sports, encompassing a total of 50 disciplines.” A discipline in the Olympics is a branch of a sport consisting of one or more events. For example, skiing is a sport, while cross-country skiing, Alpine skiing, snowboarding, ski jumping, and Nordic combined are disciplines.
And discipline is also the necessary foundation for any sport and athlete. An athlete must consistently practice the fundamentals of his/her sport to improve and build their skill in it.
The “discipline of the Lord” mentioned repeatedly in verses 5-11 coincides with this thought, in that it is not necessarily punishment, but rather repeated preparation and endurance for our walk/race of faith. God’s motivation for this is His love for us. “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.” (verse 10b)
Verses 12 and 13 build on this thought, urging our Christian conditioning, just as an injured athlete is reconditioned to compete again through a specific rehabilitation program.
Then, verse 14 urges us to “pursue peace with all men.” Again, referencing the Olympics, we know one of its primary goals is to promote peace through fair play and friendship in its competitions. This Olympic goal of peace is actually another discipline of the Christian walk/race. The Hebrews writer warns us against bitterness, and he uses Esau as a prime example. (verses 16-17)
Finally, verses 18-29 contrast the time of Moses on Mt Sinai, with the coming kingdom of God. Read verses 22-24 aloud with all the expression and emotion you can muster.
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.”
Verses 25-27 give a final warning in this chapter, and we end with this concluding motivation.
“ Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let’s show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”
Gratitude, service, reverence, awe. These “disciplines” will keep you in the Christian race, ever striving for that eternal prize at the finish line.