In Hebrews 12 the writer gives a sports analogy to convey the importance of keeping our eyes on Jesus. Reading through this passage reminded me of how contemporary the Scriptures are on today’s issues and problems. Believers everywhere are filled with anxiety, fear, doubt, unforgiveness and a multitude of other spiritual and emotional maladies that keep us from “fixing our eyes on Jesus”. There are several key elements of this passage that we need to heed in order to keep our eyes fixed on the goal.
1. “A great cloud of witnesses” – We are not alone in the race. The Greek word “great” is nephele which indicates an earth encompassing cloud. The context suggests that these witnesses are the heroes of the faith mentioned in chapter 11. We are in this race not only with other believers here on earth, but also the saints of heaven are cheering us on. Even though we may feel alone, we are never alone in the race.
2. “Let us lay aside every weight” – A runner never allows things to weigh them down. Every piece of clothing down to the weight of the shoe plays a vital role in running the race. Sometimes the things that weigh us down are not sinful things but the things that are not best for us. Often good things must be laid down in order for the best to be used in the race.
3. “Let us run with patience the race…” – The word race is the Greek word agon in which we get our English word agony. The emphasis is a long distance race. I remember running my first timed mile in junior high school. Agony would perfectly describe the experience. In the spiritual race the pace is set by God and the goal is not heaven. Heaven is settled by faith in the finished work of Jesus on the Cross. The goal is pleasing God by obedience. Along the way agony appears in the form of trials, disappointments and temptations. This race is not a 100 yard dash but a marathon.
4. “Looking unto Jesus” – This is an intent gaze upon Jesus. It’s keeping our eyes fixed on Him during the race, irrespective of the position of the rest of the runners. The race is not about how fast we finish because the pace is set by our Heavenly Father. Rather the race is based on how faithful we are at keeping our focus on Jesus along the way. Each one of us has a race to run and our focus is not to be on how our brother or sister runs the race. That’s the reason the scripture admonishes us to not compare ourselves with others.
1. If you want to be disappointed look to others
2. If you want to be discouraged focus on yourself.
3. If you want to be delighted focus on Jesus.
Since God knows from the foundation of the world who will become his child, the events that determine our race and our pace may even begin before we become a believer. We see an example of this principle at work in Nee Wheng-hsiu:
Famous missionary Watchmen Nee’s mother, Nee Wheng-hsiu, had plans to go to medical school in the USA. But at the last minute her mother arranged a marriage contract for her. The marriage was everything she feared about an arranged marriage- abuse and marriage to someone she didn’t love. Her sorrow drove her to Christ. After her conversion she approached her 17 year old son Watchman and confessed her sin of being too harsh in her discipline of him. Watchman was taken by surprise. This behavior was not only unusual but it was also uncommon in the Chinese culture. Because of his mother’s transformation Watchman Nee also gave his life to Christ. His impact on China is felt even today throughout China.
Like Nee Wheng-hsiu, our race may contain tragedy, disappointment and even regret, but it is our race, and it is orchestrated by God. Only as we keep our eyes fixed on Christ will we realize the reward of the peace of God in the midst of the race, and the eventual fulfillment of His will and purpose for our life.
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith… Hebrews 12:1-2a (NASB)