4 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
Hebrews 12:1-3 (ESV)
When I went to college, I was not trying to play basketball. Sure, I thought about it, more like fantasized about it, but I didn’t think it would happen.
I had played pick-up games with the guys on the team, and every time we played together they reminded me of how much work I needed to do to be good enough to be on the team. Besides, there were two other prospects who’d played a great deal more with them.
One of the prospects was a 6’6” guard whose brother had played on the team. The other, a friend of mine, was previously a regional wrestling champ who held the lowest mile time in freshman PE class.
Yet, on a whim, I decided to try out.
The tryout began by testing our conditioning with every variation of the dreadful “suicide”: army suicides with hands held above the head, duck-walk suicides, frog-hop suicides, and some others that were so traumatic, I think I blocked them from memory.
My sides were cramping, my chest was burning and my legs felt like jelly, but I just kept thinking in my head, if the guy next to me could keep going, then I could keep going. (I’d purposely positioned myself next to our starting point guard who was one of the faster guys on the team.)
“Thud!” I looked around to see what or who had fallen with such force. To my surprise, the champion wrestler with the record mile time collapsed from exhaustion. A few minutes later I looked up and the other guy had stopped running and was walking back to the bench. He’d given up.
I thought about giving up too, but right then the point guard with whom I’d been keeping up started to cheer me on, “Don’t give up, Leon!” Then I heard the coach saying, “Let’s go, Leon!”
Hearing their voices of encouragement made me run a little harder and persevere a little longer, and before I knew it, I made it to the end of the conditioning test having out-run the prospects and some of those who were already on the team as well.
Needless to say, I made the team.
In this passage, the writer of Hebrews encourages his readers to persevere in the race of faith because of the cloud of witnesses surrounding them. These witnesses are those saints of the Old Testament who themselves persevered through the difficulties of the life of faith and who, having successfully crossed the finish line, now enjoy the eternal reward of their endurance.
Among them is the greatest witness of all, the Lord Jesus Himself. He had endured the horrible shame and pain of the cross, being encouraged by the sure reward that awaited Him at the end of His suffering.
As believers, we are bound to encounter difficulty and even opposition as we seek to live faithfully for Christ. Relationships may be lost, teammates may ostracize us, or we may simply find that overcoming some of our former ways of living is more difficult than we could have ever imagined.
To us, this passage is saying, “Keep going. You can do it! You are not alone. Many others have done it before you and are now enjoying the reward of their faithfulness, and so can you. And look, Jesus is at the finish line and He’s cheering His head off for you!”
This Holy Week, as we consider the Passion of Jesus leading up to Easter, be encouraged through knowing that He’s already paved the way for you through His suffering, and that He is with you every step of the way, encouraging you and empowering you to finish well.
Bonus Reading for Easter Morning
“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to Him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.”’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’—and that He had said these things to her.” John 20:1-18 (ESV)
My church follows the church calendar, and on the church calendar Easter lasts for seven weeks. These seven weeks are a time of celebration, a time during which the customary greeting is, “He is risen, He is risen indeed!”
Each Sunday, we celebrate the fact that Jesus is indeed risen from His grave, and that His work on our behalf is certainly accomplished. We are redeemed, and our future hope of salvation and glory is secured. Hallelujah!
When Mary realized that she was speaking to her resurrected Lord, her grief quickly turned to rejoicing! All of her hopes had come true and all of her fears had ceased.
Yet Jesus’ response to her rejoicing is not what one would expect. Instead of rejoicing with her, He tells her not to hold on to Him since He has not yet ascended to the Father.
In other words, Jesus was telling Mary that though she had reason to rejoice, her rejoicing was premature since He still needed to return to the Father. He tells her to find His brothers, likely the apostles, and tell them that He has risen.
Though we rejoice in Jesus’ resurrection at Easter, we must understand that His work is not yet complete. Jesus returned to His Father where He waits for the full number of His followers to come to Him.
Like Mary, the appropriate response of those of us who rejoice in His resurrection is to go about sharing the good news of the gospel, compelling others to put their faith in Him.
This Easter, remember that once the full number of believers comes to Him, then He will return, resurrecting all believers, with glorified bodies like His, to spend eternity with Him in the new heavens and new earth.