Hebrews 12: tells us we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. He is not talking about angels, as the word “therefore” indicates, but to the heroes of the faith mentioned in the previous chapter. The word “witnesses” is not used here in the sense of observers, but of those giving testimony or witness by their lives. What is their witness to us? That the life of faith is not a bed of roses. When you walk by faith and not by sight there are hardships all along the way, and you never realize your ultimate hope in this life. In spite of this the walk of faith is do-able because so many have done it; and it is worth it. That is the message of the great cloud of faithful witnesses.
The first thing we are told to do is put off something–sin. Sin entangles us and weights us down. Why put it off? Because we are in a race, and when you run in a race you want to be as light as possible. You never see obese people winning the Boston Marathon, do you? You never see distance runners carrying backpacks full of rocks on their backs or wearing ankle weights. Nor do you see them trying to run with their shoe laces tied together. Why–because to do so would be stupid and would cause them to lose.
We must travel light in the race of faith because it is a long cross country course, not a fifty meter dash. “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (v. 1). Notice too that one must run with focus. “Fixing out eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (v. 2). Jesus said that he who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of Heaven (Luke 9:62). The Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1-23) teaches us that many make what looks like a good start and then finish badly. They get tired, discouraged, and bored, and drop out of the race.
The fatigue comes often by being weighted down and tangled up in sin. Boredom sets in when we take our eyes off Jesus waiting for us at the finish line with the great cloud of witnesses standing by cheering us on. So many who professed faith back when I was saved in the Jesus Movement have abandoned the God of the Bible. Some are living nominal Christian lives where they still retain a personal faith in Jesus that rarely expresses itself in any genuine way. Others have rejected the Scripture for Openness Theism, humanism, and even Buddhism. A strong start but a disastrous finish.
I have a son named Jeremy who is the #1 ranked wrestler in the state this year in his weight class. This is his senior year and he is the youngest of four brothers who were all wrestlers like their dad. When Jeremy was a freshman he did not know how to pace himself, and he would go out and spend his energy in the first round trying to pin his opponent. This strategy resulted in him losing about half his matches that year. Through his high school career he has learned to pace himself and wrestle smart. He was a state runner up last year and has his eye on a state title this year. But he must keep his eye on the finish line. And he must work hard every day in practice. He needs to get his sleep and eat healthy foods. He has to keep his grades up. He has a target on his back, and if he is careless or overconfident he could get knocked off by someone who isn’t on his radar.
This is a metaphor of the race of faith. You must not just make a start of it and then drop out. You must run until you cross the finish line and then you can collapse into the arms of Jesus. If you are His you will not quit because He will not let you. He will give you what you need to finish the course.