DR. PHILLIP BRASSFIELD
V1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares [us], and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,V2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of [our] faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
To really understand Hebrews 12, you must put it in context using Hebrews 11. Hebrews Chapter 11 tells us that, by faith, Abel sacrificed; by faith, Enoch walked; by faith, Noah built; by faith, Abraham obeyed; by faith, Sarah received, and so on. The thing each of the characters mentioned have in common was faith. Right? Yes, but there was something else, adversity.
Yes, faith, in a sense, is the star of the show in Hebrews Chapter 11, but there’s another significant character playing a major role in the lives of each of those mentioned, adversity. Adversity was the supporting character that really added depth to the storyline. Everyone mentioned in Chapter 11 walked by faith during times of great difficulty. Their faith was held in contrast to what they were going through. This is what makes their stories so powerful. When I think of the characters of Chapter 11, I’m reminded of something I once heard the famed Pastor Adrian Rogers say, “A faith that hasn’t been tested can’t be trusted.” The reason we call Hebrews Chapter 11 the great roll call of the faithful is precisely that, each persevered in faith through challenging circumstances. Simply put, they overcame.
But, as Chapter 12 opens, it’s as if the writer refuses to leave us as silent spectators of their heroic faith, as if we could watch from a safe distance. As Chapter 12 opens, he thrust us into the storyline when he says, “Therefore we also….” This is a bold and telling statement of inclusion. No, we cannot live lives safely removed from the difficulties and uncertainties of life. We must also walk by faith like they walked by faith. If we are to do this successfully, the writer gives us several pieces of strategic advice.
- We should live lives of simplicity. He encourages us to avoid the complication that the cares of life and unconfessed sin creates. The writer describes it this way: “let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us….” Sin and the cares of life are like a trap designed to hold us out of or slow us down in the race of completing God’s purpose for our lives. Sin keeps us out of the peace of God and feeling anxious as we struggle to carry a load of shame, and the cares of life hold us back by weighing us down. Carrying too much weight reduces speed and agility; every athlete knows that.
- Embrace the posture of patience. “Let us run with endurance in the race that is set before us…” We don’t always choose “the race that is set before us.” Life does that; people can do that. Sometimes the race set before us involves mountains and valleys we did not see coming or that were unexpected. Endurance is required. Endurance and patience do not suggest an acceptance or surrender to the circumstance, but rather a determination to overcome with an eye for the win. We dig deep and push hard. We meet every challenge with a confidence that God is in control and has planned a pathway to victory. We run knowing that “the win” is in us already and will make its appearance on the other side of endurance. We understand that every great victory is accomplished through the journey of resistance.
- And keep Jesus as the focus of life. “Looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith…” The entire section of Hebrews 11 and 12 is about faith that overcomes. Challenges and difficulties, and we all face them, can cause us to attach our attention to the wrong things. Both pleasure and pressure can isolate us, distract us, and cause us to allow the “Dis- family” to our thoughts. Distraction, Disappointment, Dissatisfaction, Discouragement, Despair. The Dis- family of words has nothing to offer you. There’s no hope in them. But, Jesus has overcome. He’s already won. He is a proven, unrivaled, and never defeated champion. And He has started with us, is leading us on, and will finish with us. He has become our example and pace setter.
The writer challenges us to keep our focus on His victory instead of our circumstance. “Looking unto Jesus….” The word looking means to set your “attention on,” or to “focus on something different”. What we set our attention on, we tend to move toward. (My driving proves that.) The writer knows that endurance requires that you focus on the goal, not the distance or the challenges of the race. Focusing on Jesus keeps the “win” in the forefront of our minds.
As we focus on Jesus, He brings the “win alive in us.” We hear the cheers of those who have competed before us and have become a great cloud of witnesses who believe in Jesus and in the victory God has built into us before we even began the race. This is not mind over matter or the power of positive thinking; it is spirit over flesh and anointing over opposition! Those watching us encourage us to finish, to trust our Champion, and, like a high school football game – when you feel the crowd get into the game, and the anticipation arises with every exciting moment, you begin to feel the win in the crowd before it shows up on the field.
This article was originally published in the 2023 Fall Edition of the Destiny Magazine. You can find the online edition here.