Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
We begin chapter 12 with an amazing shift in tone, yet it is a small section that is actually in the position of summing up the previous chapter. Remember that chapter 11 has been all about active faith, and here in summing that up the author, sounding very much like the Apostle Paul, uses a sports metaphor. We are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” referring to all of those great people of faith who were named in chapter 11, and here they are the spectators at a great race; the stage is set…
The author now urges us to throw off everything that hinders as an athlete would remove all hindering clothing in preparation for a race. Then, he applies this to our reality when he says “and the sin that so easily entangles.” If we were athletes in a locker room before a great race, we would change out of our “street clothes” and into the garb of a runner; minimal clothing that allows full freedom of movement, with no extra weight, and nothing to limit our ability to run the race. Likewise, as servants of Jesus who are running the “race” of life, we must get rid of anything that would limit our ability to run our “race.” Sin, distractions and the like must be left behind, lest they should inhibit our efforts.
Then, we run our race that has been “marked out for us” with our eyes fixed on Jesus. When you run a race, you don’t just make up the course as you go along; it has been fixed by the racing officials. Likewise, the race that is our lives has been marked out by God, so that we run a certain course. We usually call this our “calling.” Each of us has been “called” to His service in a certain way, and the author is trying to encourage the people to fix their eyes on Jesus, and run the race we have been called to effectively and without distraction or restraint.
Jesus, who is the author and perfecter of our faith is our model for the race. Notice that He is author; He is the One who has written this tale and marked out our race. He has perfected our faith by His work on the cross. As you read further, we see that Jesus is our model, for in His earthly ministry, He has done exactly what we are to do now in our own rights. He threw off sin and distraction, fixed His eyes upon the will of the Father, and ran His race to win. We are to throw off all distraction and sin and fix our eyes upon Jesus and run our race to win just as those great people of faith in chapter 11 did.
Finally, Jesus sat down at the right hand of the throne on high; He reached the finish line. For just as He reached the finish line and as He sat down on high, so shall we, when we finish the course before us. I’m struck at this moment that the whole concept of this is so simple. It’s really easier to comprehend than it is to describe, which is the mark of a great metaphor. Will we get ready and run that race?
On your mark…. get set…. GO!