"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 perfecter of faith, 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." (Hebrews 12:1-2)
These verses bring to my mind the well-known saying, “when the times get tough the tough get going.” Some enter into the Christian faith believing that life will now be beautiful, all the trials and tribulations the world can toss at them will be taken care of, and that there is no evil force that can stand against them. Yes if they are in the will of God, then what can stand against them? "If God is for us, who is against us?" (Romans 8:31) But life is what it is here in this world. We live in a fractured world that has been broken by sin. We live in a world that is ruled by Satan himself and his purpose is to destroy everything godly. And as a Christian, we will have trials and tribulations as long as we are living in this body of flesh. "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
It is a problem that our focus rest so much upon this world. This visible world that we live in and the only world we have experienced. We are looking in the wrong place to find good times. There are no real good times in this world, only deception. Our focus is to be on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His Kingdom we are bound for. It is there that life will be perfect. "And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." (Revelation 21:3-4) This is the world that the Christian is bound for and we can see in now through our eyes of faith.
But first, we must run the race that has been set before us. We have the good work that we were created to accomplish, predestined and prepared for us long before we came into this world. It is a work that we can accomplish as we have the Son of God living through us and He has the power to calm the storms that come up before us. Through Him, all things can be done for the glory of the Father. "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13)
Today we are looking in Hebrews chapter twelve at the first two verses. The author of Hebrews begins with the word “therefore.” This word is a transition of the last chapter to a continuing conversation in this chapter. Hebrews chapter eleven is known as the “heroes of Faith” chapter. The author in chapter eleven described the accomplishments of the great people of faith from the Old Testament. We sometimes look at them in their greatness and think the measure they achieved is above our reach. We sometimes think that they sacrificed more for the Kingdom of God than we could do. But they, as we, were sinners like you and me and fell short of the glory of God. In spite of that through their faith, they overcame the trials and tribulations and now have become a great cloud of witnesses for us to learn from. Even if we are not as familiar with them as we should be, there are plenty of the faithful that we can learn from in this day that we live. We have a great cloud of witnesses that have run the race that we are now running from the ages gone by, and we have a great cloud of witnesses who are here with us in our time.
The author of Hebrews is giving us a vision of the champions of faith who are now as spectators in heaven that are cheering us on as we endeavor to overcome present discouragements that the world will always place in our path. I don’t know if that is true that the saints in heaven can look down upon us and watch our progress. The suggestion is here but it could just be amusing though. More likely the cloud of witnesses are not witnessing us but are witnesses for us to see their faith and endurance as they lived their lives of service to their Lord.
Our adversary will lay in our path every encumbrance and temptation for us to fall into the trap that he possibly can. The lost are lost but the Christian is a person with a target on their back that the adversary aims for. If Satan can get sin between us and God, then the clear channel of faith is hindered. If we are running a race, then sin and the distractions of this world can weight us down so that we cannot run effectively. We are to know the Word of God, it is the power to defeat the tempter. When the distractions of the world appear, when sin knocks upon the door to our heat, do not entertain it but move on with eyes fixed upon the goal. "Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you." (James 4:7)
Sin is a trap that is laid before us to ensnare us. Sin can be easily avoided but too often is not. Some of the sinful behaviors that we see we sometimes tend to admire. Some sin does not seem to be sinful. My Grandmother used to take extra condiments from the restaurant to stock her kitchen. But that is sinful, it is stealing. There is some sin that is the work of demonic forces in the Christian life from a crack in the wall that has been exploited. In this case, we would need the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome this. It would be better for us to live in the power of the Holy Spirit in the first place and we could overcome the desires of the flesh. "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh." (Galatians 5:16)
The good work we have been called to do is set before us, the race to eternity must be run, and the goal for the Christian is to be with the Father in His Kingdom eternally. We must have the endurance to run the race. The Christian life is not passive. Passive never wins the race. We must be committed to the effort of running the race that God has set us upon and finish it with the joy that is set before us. The Apostle Paul was committed to achieving the finish line of the race that God had put him on. Paul is a man for us to admire, a man that we can learn much from, and a witness that we can be inspired by. "But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God." (Acts 20:24)
The ultimate and supreme example that we should follow is our Lord Jesus Christ. The goal of a follower of Jesus is to be as Jesus. To submit to His Lordship over our lives. To live in the same mindset as He and be Christ-minded. Jesus is our focus, our inspiration, and the true example of how we should live our life to please the Father. Jesus is more than an example for us, as Peter said, "Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life." (John 6:68)
Jesus is not only the author of our faith He is the finisher of our faith also. Jesus created us and He provides the purpose for our creation. "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10) When we have committed our life in the service of our Lord Jesus it is for the good work that we were created to do. We do His work with faith in His Word. If Jesus begins a good work in us, then He will complete that work in us. "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6)
For our forgiveness and salvation, Jesus endured the cross. It was the joy set before Him that gave encouragement through the suffering and shame He took for the cause of humanity. The cross was not His joy but He looked beyond that agony to what lay ahead of the cross. This is the example that we are to follow. We become trapped in the trials of this world and fail to look beyond to the glory of the world to come. That mentality enabled the early Christians and it will enable us today to endure to the end of the race.
Too many professing Christian will not be an effective witness for Christ because of the shame and embarrassment they must endure. They do not like to lose friends, do not like to be mocked, and do not like to be persecuted. Yet Jesus endured all this and more for the joy that was set before Him. Spurgeon spoke of the Christians who would not endure the shame that comes from the world by following Jesus. “Yet you are a coward. Yes, put it down in English: you are a coward. If anybody called you so you would turn red in the face; and perhaps you are not a coward in reference to any other subject. What a shameful thing it is that while you are bold about everything else you are cowardly about Jesus Christ. Brave for the world and cowardly towards Christ!”
Jesus lived in the complete will of the Father and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. God glorified His son for His faith and obedience to His will. If we as His followers, Christians, endure the suffering and shame as our Lord, then we too shall be glorified as He. "And if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him." (Romans 8:17)
The Apostle Paul is a witness that we can look up to in our ministry for the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Paul was we too should be witnesses in the race until we have finished the course. In that way, we will not only complete the good work of the Kingdom but we will be a part of the cloud of witnesses that will encourage others to follow behind. With Paul and the others we can say, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing." (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
Thomas N Kirkpatrick
First Baptist Church of Durant, June 15, 2017