Background Passage: Hebrews 12:1-3
Has there ever been a time in history when the world watched as closely the actions and reactions of Christians to world events? Certainly, the new, polarized media and the prevalence of social media contribute to the intense scrutiny of the verbal and living testimony shared with those we encounter. The intolerance directed at Christians who stand for their faith is counterbalanced at times with our own intolerant and unloving attacks on those who oppose our views.
The mistakes we make in our relationship with the world casts a dark shadow over those who attempt to live right and well. Like Sisyphus continually pushing the boulder up the hill only to lose his grip and let it roll back to the valley, one trying to build a bridge to those in need of Christ’s love, can easily grow so tired of the effort that giving up feels like a sensible option. In a world that fails to listen to the call of God, it is easy to grow discouraged.
The writer of Hebrews speaks a word for the weary that theologian William Barclay called “one of the great, moving passages of the New Testament.” The unknown author of Hebrews calls upon us to remember the heroes of our faith, to recall the difficult circumstances they encountered and the faith that sustained them. So the first clear message of this passage is that we are surrounded by those men and women who stood firm in faith despite setbacks and hardship. This “cloud of witnesses” ought to inspire us with their life testimony to persevere in our own effort to live as Christ commands.
With the memory of those bastions of faith behind us, we are urged to toss away every hindrance to running the race along the “course that is marked out before us.” The will of God for our lives. The path he desires us to walk. We are neither an unconcerned bystander, nor spectator, nor tourist along for the ride. We are called to run the race that God set out for us to run…regardless of where it takes us, how long or rugged the path. God has set the goal before us. Our task is to rid ourselves of the beastly burdens and bad attitudes that make the race feel impossible. To run with dogged dedication the gauntlet of a life lived for Christ.
The task is easier said than done when it feels as though the whole world is rooting against us. We feel the sting of ridicule from an unbelieving world each time we fail to live up to God’s standards, making it more difficult to accept his forgiveness and start anew. We feel the pressure of other believers who wrap themselves so tightly in the cloak of politics that faith becomes a social movement rather than a matter of the heart.
How then does the writer of Hebrews suggest we stay steadfast on the course God laid out before us? Simply this: “Fix your eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” In a moment of personal insanity many years ago, I once ran a half-marathon. I am not physically built to run a half-marathon. With no hope of winning, all I wanted to do is finish sometime before supper. In the last quarter of the race, my breath grew labored. My legs tired. My head telling me to stop the madness. Instead, I ran five miles staring at a runner about 100 yards in front of me. I told myself “If I lose sight of him, I’ll quit.“ Keeping my eyes focused on that man and with the help and encouragement of a friend over the last mile, I managed to finish what I started. We invariably quit the course laid out for us when we lose sight of Jesus. This we cannot do.
Hebrews tells us to think of all that Christ endured…the difficult journey, the constant opposition, the unhearing hearts, the agony of the cross…for despite the suffering, he endured it all because he could anticipate the joy that his gift of salvation would bring to the world. What God started in our lives, intending it all for good, must not be cast aside when the going gets tough. Think instead of the joy we will know when the task is done.
It is a strange world in which we find ourselves today, filled with frustration and heart break. You may feel, as I do at times, that you are not making a difference…that for every one step forward, the world pushes you two steps back. Know that it is not so. Acts of faith never return unrewarded.
At the end of the day, we must fix our eyes on Jesus and consider his enduring faith so that we “will not grow weary and lose heart.” Barclay called it one of the great, moving passages of the New Testament. I call it a message I needed to hear.