Hebrews 12:1-2 “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.”
There is a great phrase Hebrews 12:1 that says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” When I was growing up and even when I was older, I mistakenly understood this verse to mean that you better watch out what you do because all of those who have gone on before us are right around the corner and they are watching from Heaven, and if you goof up they are reporting to God – as if God could not see everything himself. However, this verse is not a verse to intimidate, but it is a verse to encourage us. It is not a verse to make us think that someone is always looking over our shoulder, but instead we need to see it in the context.
The context is chapter 11. Chapter 11 is talking about people who lived a life of faith, and how they lived that life of faith.
So Hebrews 12 naturally is speaking of the people in chapter 11 and all the ones who have gone on in faith. Since we are surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses,
When He says witnesses, He doesn’t mean people watching us. He means witnesses like we talk about in our judicial system. When you are a witness you come up and you sit on the stand, and you testify to certain facts. What are the people in chapter 11 testifying to us? They are testifying and they are screaming out, “You can do it!” You can run the very same race of faith. Your life can be a life that is filled with the same faith as all of those in chapter 11.
We see that this is a transition passage. These first two verses are telling us that we can live the same type of life as those who lived the life of faith in chapter 11. It is an encouragement. He says, “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.”
The word race in the Greek is actually the word that we get our word agony from. So He is not talking about racing you to the mailbox or racing you from one point to the next. We are talking about a long-distance race. We are talking about faith through agony. We are talking about faith through the good times and faith in the bad times. So don’t be mistaken, we are not talking about a path to health and wealth. We are talking about a life of faith and all the ups and downs of life -the good times and the agonizing times.
How do we run this race of faith just like those who have gone on before us? The first thing that we can notice in the beginning of this passage is that we need to “Join the Historical Race.” We have the opportunity to join the historical race. That is why He says, “We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” We have this great heritage of Able, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses that is listed in chapter 11, and we can join it. We can worship like Able worshiped. We can walk with God the way that Enoch walked with God. We can obey God like Noah obeyed God. We can sacrifice like Abraham sacrificed. We can lead like Moses led. We can do all of those things, and they are witnesses to fact that we can do that. We can run this race of faith, and it is very possible by faith.
If you are a believer in Christ, this is your race –and you will finish. So let the witness of those who have gone on before you encourage you to keep running!