THE RACE MARKED OUT
Inspiration from Hebrews 12:1-3 for those Running the Race of Life
F. Wayne Mac Leod
LIGHT TO MY PATH BOOK DISTRIBUTION
Copyright © 2012 by F. Wayne Mac Leod
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise specified are taken from the New International Version of the Bible (Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used with permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. All rights reserved.)
A Special thanks to the proof readers: Diane Mac Leod, Pat Schmidt
There is a race marked out for every believer. That race is not always an easy one. There will be obstacles on the path and temptations to overcome. Hebrews 12:1-3 is an inspiration to those who desire to walk in obedience to the call of God on their lives. Here in these simple verses we are reminded of men and women who have gone on before us testifying to the power and faithfulness of the Lord God who leads us in the race. We are challenged to watch out for the obstacles and hindrances on the path before us and encouraged to consider the Lord Jesus as our example and inspiration.
My goal in writing this simple devotional commentary is to encourage and strengthen weary servants of God through the wonderful truth recorded for us in Hebrews 12:1-3. May it inspire those who are considering the call of God on their life. As with all these books, don’t rush through this study. Take the time to consider the truth of the Scripture. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you what He wants to teach you in these verses. May it encourage those who are feeling weary in the race that has been marked out for them.
F. Wayne Mac Leod
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses ..." (Hebrews 12:1)
As we begin this study of Hebrews 12:1-3 we need to take a moment to examine the context. Verse 1 begins with the word “therefore.” This implies that the author has said something prior to this that demands a response.
The word “therefore” refers to Hebrews 11. In this passage the author speaks about those who have gone before us. What characterized these men and women was that they were people of tremendous faith. They obeyed God, not knowing what was ahead. They trusted God’s promise when they could not imagine how He could fulfil that promise. They believed God could do the impossible. They willingly sacrificed their most precious possessions in obedience to His call. Some were tortured, imprisoned, flogged, stoned and even sawed in two for the faith they professed in the Lord their God.
Having shared stories of these men and women of faith, the author moves on to how one ought to respond to their example. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,” he says in verse 1. Notice the combination of the two words, “therefore” and “since.” These words imply that we now have an obligation.
Read Hebrews 11 and be challenged by the faith of those who walked with God. Read of God's incredible grace and faithfulness as He led Abraham from Ur to become the father of the nation of Israel. See the God of the impossible, who opened the womb of Sarah, though she was past the age of bearing children. Recognize the protection of God, who shut the mouths of the lions when Daniel was thrown into their den. Be challenged in your own commitment to the Lord as you read of the dedication of those who were persecuted and laid down their lives for their faith.
Hebrews 11 is not just a story about dedicated men and women of faith; it is a challenge to our faith. When we see how God leads and protects His people, we are without excuse when He calls us. When we see how He did the impossible in the lives of our spiritual ancestors we are compelled to trust Him in our situations as well. The stories of these men and women, place us under an obligation. We see our God in them -- His provision, protection and guidance. He who led and provided for Moses in the wilderness will also provide for us in our wilderness. He who protected Daniel from the mouths of lions will also protect us. He who led Abraham step by step will lead us as well. It is for this reason that the author of Hebrews begins chapter 12 with the words, “therefore” and “since.” In other words, since we know these things, we are without excuse.
Notice also in this phrase that the writer calls these men and women of Hebrews 11 “a great cloud of witnesses.” There are several details we need to see in this.
First, notice that the writer speaks of a “great” cloud of witnesses. The Greek word used for “great” refers to quantity. In other words, there are a large number of witnesses. The number is so great it is referred to as a cloud. This cloud of witnesses surrounds us on all sides. Have you been suffering for your faith? You are not alone. Are you being stretched in your faith? Many men and women before you have faced similar opposition.
Second, notice that this great cloud is a cloud of “witnesses.” A witness is someone who testifies to what he or she has seen and experienced. What is the testimony of these men and women of faith? They speak by their life and death of a God who provides and cares for His people. They speak of a God who can do the impossible. They testify of His sustaining grace and perfect wisdom even in the trials and struggles of life.
The fact that these witnesses are great in number is significant. The Old Testament required that there be at least two or three witness to testify against a person before that person could be accused (see Deuteronomy 19:15, 17:6). This was carried into the New Testament so that the apostles required that an accusation against an elder be validated by at least two or three witnesses (see 1 Timothy 5:19). What we have in Hebrews 12:1, however, is a great cloud of witnesses. Their testimonies are piled up in great mountains of evidence to the truth of God’s love, provision, grace and guidance. Could there be any doubt when such a great number of witnesses testify?
Notice finally, how this great cloud of witnesses surrounds us. From one corner of the earth to the other, men and women of faith are testifying of the same truth. From one age to another their story is the same. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the God of grace, mercy and love. He provides, cares for His own and offers them hope and victory. Their testimony can be summed up in the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 46:1-3:
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
As we read the stories and listen to the testimonies of those who have gone before us, what will be our response? We are left without excuse. These men and women suffered so that the faith they professed could be passed on to us. They give us an example to follow. They inspire us with their faith and devotion. They prove to us by their lives that the Lord God will care for us and provide for all our need. They remind us that there is something more important than life itself.
There can be no doubt. There are no excuses. The testimony of this great cloud of witnesses inspires us to walk where they walked. It challenges us to be firm and loyal to the end. Their God is still our God. What He did for them, He will do for us.
* Take a moment to read Hebrews 11. What obstacles did these men and woman of faith encounter in their walk with the Lord their God?
* How do the men and woman of Hebrews 11 inspire you in your walk with God?
* What should be our response to the testimony of men and women of faith?
* Are there people in your day who inspire you to greater heights of faith and devotion to the Lord God? Who are they? What is it about them that in-spires you? What do they teach you about God?
* What kind of testimony will you leave behind for your children and those of your generation?
* Take a moment to thank the Lord for the wonderful faith of men and woman who have gone before you.
* Ask the Lord to help you to learn from the examples of your spiritual fathers and mothers.
* Ask God to help you to leave your children a legacy of faith that will inspire them in their walk with the Lord.
“... let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” (Hebrews 12:1)
In the previous chapter we met with those who have gone before us. This great “cloud of witnesses” is an example and inspiration for us. While it is good to have an inspiration, this is not enough. There comes a point in our lives when we need to make a personal decision to follow the call of the Lord Jesus ourselves. This is the challenge of the writer of Hebrews. He expects that the readers will see the example of those who have gone before them and give themselves wholeheartedly to God as well.
While this sounds relatively simple, those who take up this challenge will soon find that there are many obstacles to walking as their spiritual ancestors walked. We read of two such obstacles in verse 1.
Things that Hinder
The writer describes the first obstacle as “things that hinder.” He does not specifically define these things, but the context of the rest of Scripture gives us a better understanding of what they might be.
The things that hinder are not necessarily sinful things. In fact, they may be very good things in themselves. Before following the Lord Jesus, the disciples were fishermen by trade. It was by means of this noble profession that they made their living. One day Jesus came to where Simon Peter and Andrew were working. They were casting their nets into the lake when Jesus called to them: “Come, follow me... and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19). When they heard the call, they immediately left their nets and followed Him (Matthew 4:20). Jesus was asking these disciples to leave an honorable profession. He had something else for them to do.
Family is one of life’s most precious gifts. In fact the Psalmist tells us that children are a rich blessing from the Lord:
Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:3-5)
When Jesus called James and John to be His disciples in Matthew 4:21-22, they not only left their trade but also their father to follow Jesus. Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:37:
Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
If you are going to follow the Lord Jesus, He must come first in your life. This may mean leaving the security of family. For some it may mean not being married and having a family. For others is may mean moving far away from extended family to do what God has called them to do.
Jesus met a rich young ruler in Matthew 19. This man seemed very interested in being a follower of Jesus. He asked Him one day what good thing he could do to have eternal life. Jesus told him to sell his possessions, give them to the poor and then follow Him (Matthew 19:21). That rich young man turned away from Jesus that day. He was not willing to give up the blessings and comforts he enjoyed to follow Him.
Our work, our family and our possessions are all blessings from the Lord. They come directly from Him for our blessing and comfort. These things are not bad in them-selves. They are good things to be treasured and enjoyed as blessings from God. As believers, however, we must never let these blessings take priority in our lives ahead of God Himself.
Notice what the writer to the Hebrews tells us to do with these things that hinder. We are to throw them off. This is a strong word, especially when it comes to the good things we love and cherish. To throw something off requires a deliberate effort. When God calls, even the good things that hinder must be thrown away. This demands sacrifice and discipline.
In an age where we strive for comfort and security, sacrifice is not always easy. Throwing off everything that hinders is not an easy thing to do. Abraham had to lay his son on an altar in obedience to the call of God (Genesis 22:9-10). Joseph was forced to leave his family and go to Egypt (Genesis 37:27-28). God required that Moses leave the comfort and wealth of Egypt (Exodus 2 11-15). John the Baptist lost his life because he preached the truth (Matthew 14:1-11). Even good things can keep us from doing the will of God. The believer must be willing to “throw off” even the blessings of God if they keep him from walking in absolute obedience.
Sin that Entangles
The other obstacle spoken of in verse 1 is described as “sin that easily entangles.” The word “sin” here shows us that the writer is referring to clear violations of God’s purpose and will either through attitudes, actions or thoughts.
Notice that the writer tells us that these sins don’t just hinder us, they actually entangle us. Imagine a runner trying to run a race with a cord knotted and tangled around his ankles. In a similar way, imagine a believer’s mind entangled with pornography or anger. How can such a believer truly reach his or her potential? There are many sins that can entangle us and render us useless for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus challenged those who came to worship in Matthew 5:23-24 to first deal with broken relationships.
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has some-thing against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
Here Jesus describes a brother who is entangled by a bad relationship. He tells this brother that if he wants to follow Him, he must first remove this entanglement.
Peter speaks about entanglements in marriage in 1 Peter 3:7:
Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
A husband who does not treat his wife with respect is sinning against God and will entangle himself so that he cannot be effective in his ministry or walk with the Lord.
God’s blessing was withheld from Israel in Joshua 7 because Achan took forbidden articles from the city of Jericho and hid them in his tent. This entangled the whole nation so that they were unable to defeat the city of Ai. The Israelite army was humiliated because of the sin of Achan. Only when this sin was exposed and the family of Achan destroyed was God’s blessing restored to the nation.
If we are to follow the call of God and walk faithfully with Him, we must deal with the entanglements of sin. Notice that the writer to the Hebrews tells us that these sins “easily” entangle us. When we allow sin to remain in our lives we give the enemy a foothold. If we give the enemy this access and allow him to set up his home in our hearts, he will easily entangle and defeat us. He can do this because of our sinful nature that delights in evil.
David, on the roof of his house, looked down and saw Bathsheba bathing. The lust of his sinful nature rose up within him and he fell. Cain looked at the blessing God gave to his brother Abel and jealousy and anger sprang up from his sinful heart. He lashed out in anger and killed his brother. Every one of us could easily fall. The challenge of Hebrews 12:1 is to be sure that we take an aggressive and active stand against not only the sin that can easily entangle us but also the good things that keep us from experiencing all that God has for us.
* Can the blessings of God hinder us in our spiritual walk?
* What blessings from God are you willing to sacrifice for God’s glory in your life? Are there blessings you would struggle to surrender to the Lord? What are they?
* Are there sins in your life that have been entangling you? What are they? How do they keep you from God’s purpose?
* How easily could you fall into sin? How much do you need to depend on the Lord for strength to overcome?
* Take a moment to thank the Lord for the fullness of His blessings in your life. When you do this, tell Him that He has the right to take these blessings back.
* Ask God to reveal any sin that needs to be ad-dressed because it is entangling you and keeping you from being all that God intends you to be.
* Thank the Lord that He gives strength to overcome the temptations of the enemy. Ask Him to keep you dependant on Him in all things.
... and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)
So far in this study of Hebrews 12:1 we have seen the example that has been set for us by the great cloud of witnesses. We have also heard the challenge, in light of their testimony, to throw off everything that hinders and the sin that entangles. The purpose for this is now seen in the final phrase of verse 1. We are to throw off these things so that we can run the race that is marked out for us. There are a number of details we need to consider here.
Notice first that the author uses the word “run” in verse 1. The word is important. We are not speaking about a quiet walk in the park here. The use of the term “run” shows us that this is a race with a specific goal in mind and a limited time to reach that goal. There is little time to take in the sights. There is a great need for focus and discipline. To become sidetracked is to lose the race.
It is important that we understand that we are involved in a race. There is only a certain amount of time for us to complete this course. We do not know how much time God will give us on this earth, but we do know that our days are limited. We cannot afford to waste the precious time the Lord has given us. Listen to Paul’s challenge to the Ephesians in Ephesians 5:15-16:
Be very careful, then, how you live –not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
The fact is that if we do not make the most of every opportunity, we may very well fall short of the purpose God has for our lives. Who among us has not missed opportunities to share the love of Christ? Who among us has not wasted days or even years pursuing our own goals and not those of our Lord? How thankful we need to be for the patience and forgiveness of the Lord, but how much better it would be for us to end our lives with the confidence of the apostle Paul who said:
I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will awarded to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
In the Christian race, there is a limited amount of time available to us. We only have so many years to use the gifts God has given. Our time is getting shorter each day. Paul encouraged the Corinthians to run the race to win the prize:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24).
Will this race be your passion in life? Will you recognize the shortness of time and see the urgency of the task before you? Will you make the most of your time so that you can reach the goal to which you were called?
Notice also that the race set before us is a race that must be run with “perseverance.” This implies that there is an effort to be made. Runners know that if they are going to reach the goal they must discipline and push themselves. This is something any runner takes seriously. Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 9:25-27:
Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Paul said that he needed to beat his body and make it his slave. What the apostle is telling us here is that he disciplined himself to accomplish the purpose of God for his life. He realized that if he was to reach the goal God had set for his life, it would require great effort on his part.
It is important that we understand this principle. All too often we fail to understand the great sacrifices that need to be made if we are to reach our potential. We want the race to be easy and stress free. We don’t like to strain our muscles? We don’t want too many obstacles. The reality is that the race before us in on very uneven ground. There are mountains to climb and valley we must descend into. At times the race will take us into the desert or the deep jungles of life where we can easily lose our way. The enemy has gone before us setting his traps. His temptations and distractions greet us all along the way. Sometimes the enemy will jump out at us and wrestle us to the ground. Other times he will hurl insults at us from a distance. All the time he seeks to hinder and discourage us. This is a race that requires focused discipline and perseverance. Those involved in the race must not be distracted by the enemy. Paul speaks to Timothy about this by using the example of a soldier.
Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer. (2 Timothy 2:3-4)
In the midst of the race, when we are tired and discouraged, how easy it is to give in to the temptations. The Lord God, however, is calling us to run with perseverance. We must not lose heart. We must not give up. We must fight and strain and press on if we are to reach the goal to which God has called us. We must never expect that we will reach the goal without great effort.
There is one final detail we need to see in this section of Hebrews 12:1. Notice that we are to run with perseverance “the race marked out for us.” This is not any race. This is a very specific race. The race we are called to run is a race that has been particularly chosen for us. We will know the race marked out for us in three ways.
First, the race is marked out for us by calling. That is to say, God has placed a specific call on each of our lives. He has gifted each of us in a special way. He has a purpose for my life that is unique to me alone. He has allowed me to face circumstances in life that have trained me to do the work He has for me. The apostle Paul was called of God to be a missionary to the Gentiles (see Romans 15:15-16). The Lord told Jeremiah that even while he was in his mother’s womb, He had called him to be a prophet to the nations:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, be-fore you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. (Jeremiah 1:5)
What a privilege it is to know that God has a very particular purpose for our lives. This knowledge, however, comes with a serious obligation. Will we be faithful to that calling or will we become distracted? In the days of the early church, there was a tremendous physical need among the widows for food and the daily necessities of live. While the need was quite pressing, the apostles refused to get involved because this was not what the Lord had called them to do. Speaking to the believers in that region they said:
It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. (Acts 6:2)
As a result, they chose seven men to take on this responsibility so the apostles could dedicate themselves to their calling.
The race is not only marked out for us by calling but also by the Word of God. 2 Timothy 2:5 makes this clear:
Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.
The race before us must be run in God’s way and according to His rules. All who run the race must do so in obedience to the principles and standards set out in the Word of God. No one can win by ignoring the rules of the race. Our attitudes, our actions and our motivations must be in line with the teaching of Scripture. There are those who feel they have a better way. They feel that the course is too long and difficult so they take a few shortcuts. In so doing they disqualify themselves from the race marked out. The Lord has marked out the course. He has set the rules and determined how the race is to be run. Only those who run according to His rules can win the prize.
Finally, the race is marked out for us by means of the leading of God’s Holy Spirit. The Lord does not leave us alone in this race. His Holy Spirit promises to direct and guide us all the way. As we face the obstacles on the course, the Spirit will teach us and show us how to overcome. When we are uncertain about which way to go, the Holy Spirit will be our guide and show us the way. When confronted with temptations and distractions, the Holy Spirit will lead us into truth. The race that God has called us to run is a very specific race. While my calling is not the same as yours, the rules of the race are the same for all participants. The race must be run in accordance with the teaching of Scripture and the leading of God’s Spirit.
We are called to run a race. This race is not easy. Distractions, temptations and difficulties line the course that is marked out for us. We only have so much time to compete in the race. Are you willing to take up this challenge? Will you make it your life’s ambition to run the race that has been specifically marked out for you?
* What course has the Lord God marked out for your life? What has He called you to do?
* How have you been using your time? Have you been making the most of the time you have been given to run the race marked out for you?
* What sacrifices have you made in the race that has been marked out for you?
* Have you been running the race according to the rules? Have you been walking in obedience to the clear teaching of the Word of God?
* What kind of “shortcuts” are you tempted to take in the race marked out for you?
* How has the Holy Spirit been leading and guiding you in the race?
* Ask the Lord to make His purpose for you clear so that you can run the particular race He has called and gifted you to run?
* Ask the Lord to teach you how you can use the time that remains to finish the race.
* Ask the Lord to forgive you for time you have wasted or for times you have been distracted in your calling.
* Thank the Lord for the ministry of the Holy Spirit who leads us into the truth of the Word of God and His specific purposes.
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)
The race before us requires perseverance and sacrifice. Satan will do his utmost to distract us and keep us from finishing the course. The path marked out for us is one we must run ourselves. No person’s race is the same. God has marked out the course He wants each of us to take. As we take up the challenge to participate in this race, we will need great wisdom and strength. We can be assured that our faith will be tested and tried as we face the obstacles and temptations on the track before us. Where is the strength going to come from to pass through the mountains and the valleys on this course?
Verse two answers this question. The strength to overcome is our faith. The faith referred to in verse 2 is the knowledge of the truth God has given us about our salvation, His character and purpose. We can be assured that Satan will test this faith. Sometime ago, after spending the morning working on a chapter in a book I was writing, I left the coffee shop where I had been working and started my walk home. I had not gotten far when I felt the enemy whisper into my ear: “What do you think you are doing? What is the purpose of writing these Bible commentaries? You’re just wasting your time?” I knew this was from Satan but those questions bothered me all the way home. It wasn’t until the next day when the Lord spoke powerfully to me though a passage in Deuteronomy that I was able to have any victory. What the Lord showed me in that passage completely destroyed the work of Satan to discourage me. To this day, when I am tempted to question my calling, I return to those words and find strength to keep going.
Faith is the victory that will overcome the enemy and enable us to finish the course God has laid out for us. The question we now ask ourselves is this: Do we have the kind of faith necessary to run the race before us. If we are honest with ourselves, this question troubles us. The reason it troubles us, however, is because we are looking at ourselves and our own abilities to stir up faith. We see our lack of faith and begin to wonder what we can do to strengthen it. We reach down into our sinful nature in an attempt to draw up the resources to strengthen our faith. If faith comes from ourselves we are in trouble. The writer to the Hebrews tells us, however, that if we want the kind of faith that will carry us through to the finish line we need to stop looking to ourselves and fix our eyes on Jesus.
The word used here for “fixing our eyes” has the idea of “considering attentively.” The idea is not just to look at Him but to set Him as our inspiration, motivation, example and strength. It is to draw from Him all the resources necessary to complete the race. To fix one’s eyes is to turn from everything else. Jesus alone will be my example. Jesus alone will be my motivation. I will set my eyes on Him and look to no one else for strength, faith and wisdom. Faith to run the race before us is not found in ourselves but in Jesus. He is the source of the faith we need to overcome and finish the course.
The writer to the Hebrews tells us that if we are to run the race with perseverance, we must look to Jesus as the author of our faith. The word “author” in the Greek language can also be translated by the words “captain” or “leader”. There are two points we need to make in this regard.
First, Jesus is the originator of our faith. It was His work on the cross that enabled us to enter into relationship with the Father. Without His work, there could be no saving faith. Without His work there could be no relationship with the Father or the Holy Spirit. He is the author of our faith.
More than this, however, Jesus is the captain of our faith. A captain is one who leads and directs his army. He oversees the battle and is responsible for its outcome. Jesus does not just author our faith, He also oversees it. As we fix our eyes on Him we will hear His commands. He will lead us and direct us over the obstacles on the way. He will encourage us and strengthen us when we need it. The author of our faith is very interested in strengthening that faith in us.
Notice also that we are to fix our eyes on Jesus as the perfecter of our faith. This is very important. We do not perfect our own faith. This task belongs to Jesus. We all understand that Jesus is the author of our faith but some-how we miss the fact that He is also the perfecter. We have been led to believe that Jesus gives us our faith and then leaves us to perfect it on our own. This is not what the writer to the Hebrews is telling us. The task of authoring and perfecting faith belongs to Jesus alone. This was the confidence of the apostle Paul when he wrote to the Philippians:
... Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)
Speaking to the nation of Israel through Isaiah the prophet, the Lord God says:
“Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?” says the Lord. “Do I close up the womb when I bring to delivery?” says your God. (Isaiah 66:9)
The God who conceived faith in our hearts will also mature that faith. A little child cannot cause himself or herself to grow. This is the work of God who gave them life. The same principle applies to our faith. God causes faith to be born in our lives. He also matures that faith in us. Our responsibility is not to mature our faith but to fix our eyes on the one who can mature it and walk in obedience to Him.
As we fix our eyes on the Lord Jesus and walk in obedience to Him, He brings the victories we need. He strengthens and equips us to face the obstacles on the path. He com-forts and reassures us in our times of discouragement. The faith the writer speaks about here is not a confidence in ourselves and our maturity but in Christ and His ability. It is not something we have perfected in our own strength but obedience to one who cannot fail. We know our weakness. We know that we would fail without Him directing and overseeing. He is the author of the faith we profess. He is also the one who perfects that faith in us. If we are going to run the race marked out for us, we must fix our eye on Jesus. He gives us the faith and strength to overcome.
You will be tempted to look in other directions. In the heat of the moment, Satan will seek to distract you and cause you to trust in your own ability or wisdom. He will reason with you in an attempt the have you take matters into your own hands. The race is won, however, only by those who look to the author and perfecter of their faith, trust in Him and walk in obedience to His leading.
* What is our strength to finish the race marked out for us?
* Where does faith come from?
* How is faith perfected in us? Is it possible to mature faith by human effort?
* What does it mean to fix our eyes on the Lord Je-sus?
* What is the difference between feeling strong in ourselves and believing in the strength of Jesus and trusting what He says?
* Thank the Lord that He created faith in us?
* Take a moment to thank the Lord that He not only creates faith in us but also matures that faith.
* Ask the Lord to help you to fix your eyes on Him trusting in His leading and direction and not in your own wisdom to complete the race marked out for you.
* Ask the Lord to forgive you for the times you have not kept your eyes on Him but turned from Him to follow your own purposes.
“... who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
In the previous chapter we saw how the writer of the book of Hebrews challenged his readers to look to Jesus as the author and perfecter of their faith. He continues in verse 2 to give us another reason for fixing our eyes on Jesus. He tells us here that we are to fix our eyes on Jesus as an example of how the race needs to be run. Let’s take a moment to examine this in greater detail. How did Jesus run the race marked out for Him? Verse two tells us four things about Christ and His example.
HIS JOY IN SACRIFICE
The passage we are considering here starts with the words: “who for the joy set before him endured the cross.” What does this phrase teach us about the manner in which Christ ran the race marked out for Him? Christ served with a joyful heart. The course marked out for Christ was a difficult one. It led Him to the cross where He would die an agonizing death. There was nothing pleasant about the cross. It was a cruel and humiliating way to die, especially when one was falsely accused. Verse two tells us, however, that Jesus endured that cross because of the joy set before Him.
Let’s take a moment to consider the phrase “the joy set before Him.” What was the joy set before the Lord? Some commentators believe that the joy of Christ was in the fact that He would overcome and sit at the right hand of the Father. This is certainly part of the joy Jesus experienced that day. He had left the glories of heaven to come to earth where He was rejected and crucified. There would certainly have been joy in returning to the Father and being with Him again. We should not limit the joy of Christ to being restored to His Father’s presence, however.
Scripture teaches that joy is not only to be found in victory but also in trials and struggles. Throughout the New Testament we see believers filled with joy in the midst of tremendous obstacles. Consider the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 8:2 who experienced overwhelming joy in “extreme poverty” and “severe trial.”
Out of the most severe trials, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
These believers did not know if they would ever overcome the poverty and trials in this life but they still experienced “overwhelming joy.”
In Acts 13:50-52 the apostles were expelled from Antioch because of the truth they preached. The verse tells us that as they left they were “filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52). The joy we speak about here is the fruit of the Spirit of God. He delights to bless and encourage us in our trials. He fills us with His joy as we face the obstacles before us. The joy a believer feels in the midst of his or her suffering is evidence of the presence of the Spirit of God in their lives. As Jesus faced the cross, He did so filled with the Spirit of God and the joy He gave.
Finally, the joy the Lord experienced that day related to what He was about to accomplish. What would be accomplished on the cross? Satan would be defeated. Men and women around the world would be set free from sin and enter a wonderful relationship with the triune God. As Christ went to the cross, no doubt, he considered the implications of what He was about to do. You and I would be able to enter a personal relationship with Christ. We would become His children and live forever in His presence. Consider the expectant mother who is about to give birth to a child. The pain of childbirth is very real but so is the joy of bringing a new life into this world. The mother is encouraged and joyful as she faces the pain of bringing this child life.
Imagine the joy of Christ as he faced the cross that day. His joy was in the life he was giving to so many men and women across the world. He was setting them free from sin. He was releasing them from the grip of Satan. He was giving them life and they would live with Him forever.
The Lord Jesus ran the race marked out for him with joy. With joy He laid down His life for His children. The writer to the Hebrews challenges us to look to Him as our example. We must never lose the joy of sacrifice and service. As Christ, we must allow the joy of the Spirit to fill every part of us as we face the obstacles on the path before us. It is the heart of God that we walk in the fullness of joy even in the midst of opposition and great sacrifice. What a privilege and joy it is to know that we are walking in obedience to the purpose of God for our lives and running the race He has marked out for us.
HIS COMMITMENT TO THE END
The second example Christ sets for us is found in the phrase “endured the cross.” The word “endured” refers to the ability to remain under opposition. This is what the Lord Jesus did. He willingly submitted to the cross and the cruelty of the cross for our sake. The race marked out for the Lord Jesus was a difficult one. It would lead him through the valley of rejection and death. It would demand great sacrifice and suffering. This did not deter Him. He faced that opposition and did not give up.
The apostle Paul reminded Timothy that everyone who wanted to live a godly life would face persecution:
You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Timothy 3:10-12)
Hebrews 11 speaks of the great cloud of witnesses who faced tremendous opposition and persecution for their faith. All of these men and women endured this persecution and many willingly laid down their lives for the Lord they served.
We should not expect a life of ease. The race marked out for us is a difficult one lined with many temptations and trials. The Spirit of God will fill us with His strength and joy but we must learn to endure the opposition. Jesus sets an example for us in endurance. No one can run the race without endurance.
HIS HUMILITY IN SERVICE
The third example Christ gives us is found in the phrase “scorning its shame.” The cross was a shameful place. It was the ultimate humiliation for a criminal. He hung on a cross, exposed to the world, suffering and dying while everyone watched until all life was gone. This was the path our Lord had to tread. He was brought to a place of total humiliation before those He had created.
Notice the attitude of the Lord toward this shame. Verse two tells us that He scorned it. The idea here is that he disregarded the shame. He treated it as something not worth considering. He would not allow the shame of what He was about to face keep Him from accomplishing the purpose of the Father. He was willing to be shamed and humiliated if by doing so He could complete the race that had been marked out for Him. He bore His trial and humiliation as a badge of honor.
The apostle Paul reminds us of how the Lord Jesus left everything and became poor for us:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he be-came poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)
The cross was not the only humiliation for the Lord Jesus. He took on flesh and became one of us. We will never fully understand what this meant for the Lord Jesus. He left the glories of heaven to take on the limitations of a human body. He suffered the mocking and rebuke of those He created. He did this willingly for us.
What have you suffered for the cause of the Lord Jesus? Are you willing to face the “shame” of being one of His followers? Will you risk standing alone to do what is right? Will you accept the mocking and abuse? Will you disregard what others are saying to do what you know He has called you to do? If we are going to run the race marked out for us, we must be willing to bear the “shame” with pride.
HIS REWARD FOR FAITHFULNESS
Finally, verse two tells us that Jesus “sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Culturally, the right hand was the place of honor. Jesus served with joy, sacrifice and humility. Now He would be rewarded. He ran to win the race and receive the prize.
Notice the attitude of the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:14:
I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Je-sus.
The apostle challenged the Corinthians to have this same attitude when he wrote:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24).
We must all have this attitude and commitment. We are to run the race marked out for us in order to win the prize. This is not a selfish motive. It is a commitment to become all God intends us to become. It is an intense desire to reach my fullest potential for the glory of God and the expansion of His kingdom. It was the heart of the Lord Jesus to accomplish all the Father had given Him to do so that He could take His rightful place at the Father’s side.
Will this be your attitude? Will you make it your commitment to win this race? Will you give all you can to reach the goal Christ has set for you? Will you strive for that prize? There is no place for slackness here. To run for the prize requires effort, strain and commitment. The reward is well worth it. The day will come when you will hear the Lord Jesus say to you: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
A prize awaits the runner of the race. It is the delight of the Lord to give you this prize. It will be our great pleasure and joy to receive that prize. May we run a race that is worthy of the reward by following the example laid out for us in the person of the Lord Jesus.
* Do you experience joy in your Christian walk today? Is it possible for us to know this joy in the midst of trial and suffering? How is joy an evidence of the presence of God’s Spirit in us?
* What did Jesus give up for your salvation? What are you willing to give up to run the race marked out for you?
* Have you faced “shame” for the cause of Christ? Do you see this as a badge of honor? Are you willing to be humbled or even humiliated for the cause of Christ?
* Is it wrong for us to run to win the prize? Are you running the race marked out for you with a commitment to finishing well and receiving the prize?
* Ask the Lord to increase your experience of joy in service.
* Thank the Lord for the example He is to us in sacrifice and humility. Ask Him to help you to be more willing to follow His example.
* Ask the Lord to give you a deeper commitment to running to win the prize. Ask Him to forgive you for times you have not been as committed to the race marked out for you as you should have been.
“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:3)
As we conclude our study of Hebrews 12:1-3 we are again challenged to look to Jesus. We have already seen that He is the author and perfecter of our faith. He also sets an example of joyous service, perseverance, humility and determination. In the final thought of Hebrews 12:1-3 the writer calls us to consider the opposition Jesus faced from sinful men so that we do not lose heart.
Notice that we are called to “consider” Jesus. The word “consider” is often used in a very careless way. The idea here, however, is to give careful thought to the work and life of the Lord Jesus. The apostle Paul did this in Philippians 2. Listen to what he tells us in this passage:
“... Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:6-11, KJV)
Notice what the apostle Paul tells us as he “considers” Christ in Philippians 2. He reminds us first that the Lord Jesus was equal with God. That is to say, he is God, in every sense of the word. He was creator and without Him nothing could exist (see John 1:3). We owe everything to Him. He is worthy of our praise and adoration. There is no one greater or more deserving of praise. All things are held together by Him (see Ephesians 4:16).
Second, this sovereign Lord, determined to make himself “of no reputation.” That is to say, He took on the form of a servant and became a man. He deserved to be King. He deserved that all should bow down to Him but instead, He made Himself dependant on a young mother. He grew up in this sin cursed earth, was tempted and suffered everything that we suffer “yet was without sin” (see Hebrews 4:15).
Thirdly, the Lord Jesus humbled himself as a man and willingly endured the cross (the greatest humiliation), for our sakes. He laid down His life as the Son of God so that you and I could be freed from sin and united with the Father.
Finally, Jesus was exalted because He willingly ran the race marked out for Him. He did not shrink back from His commitment. He endured the greatest humiliation. Now the Father has exalted Him above every other name.
What is the application of the truths Paul communicates in Philippians 2 and how does this help us understand what the writer to the Hebrews is telling us in Hebrews 12:3? Let’s consider this briefly.
When we consider Jesus, we are actually considering God, who reached out to you and me. He willingly humbled Himself so that we could know Him. He offered His life on the cross so that we could become His children. When we were lost in sin, He came to us and set us free from an eternity of separation from the Father. He showered His love on us and gave all He had.
As we take time to consider what God has done for us, what is our response? Do you truly believe that the Creator of all loves you with such intensity? Do you see how much He was willing to suffer for you? Do you hear the insults of those who mocked Him on the cross? Do you realize that all this was for you? Are you tempted to lose heart because of the struggle you are facing today? Does what people are saying about you cause you to grow weary of the Christian life? Then you need to consider the Lord Jesus. You need to see afresh what He endured for you. You need to see the love that flowed with the blood down his arms and to the ground as He hung from that cross. You need to see the longing of His heart as He suffered and died with you on His heart. As you consider what He endured for you, you will find courage and motivation to face your own struggles and trials in life. Those who truly understand what the Lord of All has done, will joyfully offer their own lives in return.
Secondly, as we consider the Lord Jesus we remember that He took on flesh and became a man. Listen to what the writer to the Hebrews tells us as he “considered” this truth:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)
The writer to the Hebrews tells us that because Jesus was tempted “in every way, just as we are,” He is able to understand and sympathize with our weaknesses. Jesus endured insults and persecution as a human being like us. He knows what it feels like. His body felt the pain that you and I feel. His emotions were touched just as ours are. He knows what sorrow is. He knows what rejection feels like. He knows what it is like to be tempted in the flesh. He personally experienced all these things.
What is the implication of this for us personally? When we consider Jesus and what He endured we come to realize that we can approach Him as one who understands. Have you ever tried to explain to someone what you are were feeling knowing that they wouldn’t understand? What a difference it makes to be able to speak with someone who does understand and sympathize. What an encouragement it is to find a person to identify with us. That person seems to know what we are feeling even before we share it with them. This is that kind of Lord we have. As you go to Him with your pain, He knows exactly what you are feeling. He will not be quick to condemn you. His desire is to minister to you and strengthen you to face the struggle. Because He has gone through it personally, He is able to sympathize with you and help you. What confidence it gives us to know that He understands. When we are weary and tempted to lose heart, He stands with us comforting and reminding us that He also faced what we faced and He was victorious.
Thirdly, notice that the perfect Son of God endured opposition at the hands of sinful men. Have you ever felt that sin and evil was spinning out of control and gaining the upper hand? As you read the news do you ever find yourself wondering where this is going to end? Jesus was opposed by sinful men. He allowed them to mock Him and nail Him on the cross. From a human perspective, it appeared that Satan had won the battle. That was not the case, however. What appeared to be defeat was, in reality, a great victory. God would turn the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus into a powerful weapon against the enemy. His death became our life. The enemy lashed out violently against Christ but He overcame and brought the forgiveness and salvation of God to the world.
What encouragement this ought to give us today when we grow weary in the race marked out for us. Do you feel like you just can’t see the fruit of our labors? Do you feel that the race is too much for you? Does the enemy seem to be gaining the upper hand? Then you need to look to the one who endured such opposition at the hands of sinners. You need to see that what appeared to be defeat was in reality a great triumph. God honored the faithfulness of the Lord Jesus. He may not have seen many come to accept him prior to His death, but His faithfulness paved the way for a harvest of souls around the world. Humanly speaking, He was crucified on a cross. From God’s perspective, however, he was a victorious and faithful servant who had finished the course marked out for Him. Don’t be deceived by externals. God doesn’t call us all to see great results in ministry? What is important is that we run the race He has marked out for us. We must leave the results to Him.
Finally, as we consider “Him who endured such opposition from sinful men,” let us remember the reward of the Father for faithfulness in service. Paul told us in Philippians 2:9 that the Father honored the Lord Jesus and gave Him a name above all other names. After He endured such opposition, he “sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
There was no greater honor that could be bestowed on any individual than to sit at the right hand of the throne of God. God rewarded the faithfulness of His Son. In a similar way, He promises to reward those who persevere and endure opposition for His name. Jesus told his disciples that while they might be forced to leave father and mother in this life, they would be amply rewarded for their sacrifice:
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied. ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)
God does not have to reward us for our service. The truth of the matter, however, is that He delights to reward those who serve Him faithfully. Are you growing weary and losing heart in the race marked out for you? Then you need to consider the Lord Jesus. You need to remember that he was delivered through the things He suffered into the presence of God and the reward He had in store.
There is a bright hope for all of us. We are to run the race to receive the prize. The prize will be worth all the effort and sacrifice. God stands at the finish line with His reward in hand. He longs to give us this reward. He gives us His Spirit to lead and direct us to the end of the race. He sent His son to die for us so that we could run this race. Jesus gives us an example to follow. The Father has invested much in you. His great desire is to see you reach the goal and receive the prize. Let this be your motivation when you are tempted to grow weary and lose heart.
* Are you facing opposition today? Are you growing weary as a result? What is the opposition you are facing?
* Take a moment to consider the Lord Jesus in light of the particular opposition you are facing. Ask yourself the following questions:
- How did Jesus experience what I am experiencing?
- Can the Lord Jesus identify with me in what I am facing today?
- How did the Lord Jesus face this opposition?
- What was the end result for Jesus and what can I look forward to as well?
* Thank the Lord that He willingly endured opposition at the hands of sinful men.
* Thank the Lord that He understands completely what you are facing in this life.
* Ask the Lord to give you courage and strength as you see His example and the victory He obtained.
* Thank the Lord that there is a reward prepared for all who will finish the race marked out for them.
Light To My Path (LTMP) is a book writing and distribution ministry reaching out to needy Christian workers in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Many Christian workers in developing countries do not have the resources necessary to obtain Bible training or purchase Bible study materials for their ministries and personal encouragement. F. Wayne Mac Leod is a member of Action International Ministries and has been writing these books with a goal to distribute them to needy pastors and Christian workers around the world.
To date thousands of books are being used in preaching, teaching, evangelism and encouragement of local believers in over sixty countries. Books have now been translated into a number of languages. The goal is to make them available to as many believers as possible.
The ministry of LTMP is a faith-based ministry and we trust the Lord for the resources necessary to distribute the books for the encouragement and strengthening of believers around the world. Would you pray that the Lord would open doors for the translation and further distribution of these books?