Friday, September 30, 2022
One of the most powerful sections of this chapter are the opening 3 verses: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up.”
The imagery of verse 1 closely resembles that of ancient stadium competitions. Imagine the crowd seated all around you, and you are competing in a race on the stadium floor. You are in the midst of a great multitude of people cheering you on as you strive to win the competition.
While the author of Hebrews likely did not have this exact thought in mind when he wrote that “we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,” since the word “witnesses” does not refer to spectators but rather individuals who can testify to living by faith, there is something to be said for realizing that we are not living the Christian life merely by ourselves. What the author intends for us to get from these opening verses is that we stand in continuity with the long line of ancient believers despite not ever receiving the promise of “being made perfect” (cf. 11:39-40).
If ancient believers stood firm in their faith despite enduring much affliction and opposition as the author recounted in chapter 11, then that ought to be encouraging to us that we too should stand firm in our faith. To bring his point to a climax, the author then targets the ultimate example—Jesus.
With many historical believers from whom we can draw inspiration and encouragement from, there is none more significant than the example of our Savior. We are told explicitly to “think of him” with regard to his immense suffering at the hands of sinful people and the ultimate shame of crucifixion and to realize that he willingly endured both for the sake of the “joy set out for him.”
What joy was that? What joy could be present in having to experience such awful torment and pain? Jesus’ joy was to do the will of his Father, even if that was to suffer humiliation and an excruciating death upon the cross. Perhaps it is because there is no greater example of perseverance through hardship and an unwavering resolve to live by faith than Jesus the Christ.
This seems to be the reason why the author tells the readers that they are to keep their “eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” If we understand that Jesus endured all the horrific torture and shame because he trusted in God, then we too can draw strength from him as the greatest witness (i.e., testimony) to standing strong in our faith amidst trials and adversity. Because if we focus our attention on him as the pinnacle of a life lived by faith, then we will “not grow weary in our souls and give up.”
- When was the last time you felt yourself grow weary? What were you focused on at the time? What would the writer of Hebrews 12:1-3 suggest you remember and stay focused on instead? How might that help?
- What helped Jesus endure? How can that help us as well?