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
The Context of Hebrews
The book of Hebrews is a letter written to Jewish Christians in the 1st century who were being tempted and pressured to renounce their loyalty to Christ, and return to Judaism without Christ. They had to learn to persevere under that pressure without giving up their faith. All Christians of all ages can benefit from the truths revealed in this book, because we always face ordeals and challenges that seek to destroy our faith. The principles taught in the book of Hebrews can show us how to persevere.
1. PREPARE YOUR BODY THROUGH CONDITIONING.
12:1 “let us also lay aside every weight”
The picture is of an athlete that has to remove all the unessential clothing and gear, and even avoid many good things in order to prepare himself for the competition. Notice that some weight is not sin, but it still must be lain aside. There might be any number of things in our lives which are not inherently sinful, but they may waste our time, or distract us. If these things are allowed to stay, they may not make us more sinful, but they might hinder our becoming more holy or more fruitful.
12:7 “It is for discipline that you have to endure.”
The hardships that we face are allowed by God because he knows they will benefit us, and make us more effective in our witness. Providing that we respond properly to them, hardships will make us into the kind of people that God wants to reign with him in his kingdom, and worship him throughout eternity.
11:25 Moses “choosing rather to be mistreated”
Perseverance requires us to make decisions that don’t make sense to the world around us. We can make those decisions because we can see another future that the world cannot see. Imagine someone who grew up with Moses, who finds out that he had chosen to identify with the Hebrews instead of claiming his rights as an Egyptian. Imagine what the letter/ email might say:
I heard you have made your “career choice” the other day, and I think you should reconsider. I know you’re just trying to be true to your heritage. But have you stopped to think what you have done? The Hebrews are slaves. I know you have the potential to make a real difference in your life. You have the makings of a great leader. Please reconsider before you ruin your life!
Your friend, Bob
10:32-34 “But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.
Sometimes all it takes is for us to remember the things we have already endured, the victories we have already had over the attacks of the devil. When Satan attacks with a temptation, and you stand on God’s sufficiency and do not yield to it. It makes you stronger when temptation comes again.
When Satan attacks with an accusation, and you refuse to believe it, it strengthens your self-image, so you are less likely to be effected by accusation again.
When Satan attacks with a deception, and you counter it with the truth, it tightens your stronghold on the truth, thus makes you less likely to be deceived.
When Satan attacks with an intimidation and you refuse to give in to fear, it makes you that much less likely to be intimidated the next time.
2. STRENGTHEN YOUR HEART THROUGH ENCOURAGEMENT
12:3 “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
Remembering what Jesus endured for us can help us when we face discouraging times.
10:21-25 “and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”Remembering what Jesus has done for us as our mediator can also encourage us, and get us through hard times. He has prepared us as living sacrifices by sprinkling our hearts and washing our bodies. Because of what he did, we can
- draw near to God with confidence; (22)
- hold fast the confession of our hope (destiny) (23); and
- encourage one another regularly. (25)
12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
This verse is often misread. The New Testament definition of a witness is not someone who is observing something. A witness is someone who testifies to something. The great cloud of witnesses that the author of Hebrews refers to is all those heroes of the faith that he had mentioned in chapter 11. Like the cloud in the wilderness, they have gone before us, and we follow after them. Remembering those who have gone before us can also help us stay loyal to Christ, as they were.
11:20-32 “By faith …”
Christian Perseverance is an act of faith. It is the working out of our faith in our everyday lives on a consistent basis. Faith is the motivating factor for perseverance. It is faith in who God is.
That’s why David could face Goliath when he had to. The entire Israelite army was paralysed because Goliath was bigger than any one of them. But David had been living a life of faith. He had persevered when he first faced a lion, and he discovered that God was bigger than the lion. God guided his sling, and the stone found its mark. When the bear came, David was ready, because he had been persevering. God was bigger than the bear. A persevering man does not get bear-caught. When Goliath came, taunting the Israelite army and blaspheming God, David was ready. He was ready because he had been persevering.
3. FOCUS YOUR EYES THROUGH HOPE
Hebrews 12:1-2 “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,”
What you focus on is going to determine if you persevere. If you focus on the hills, potholes, the competition, the heat, the pain, you will eventually give up. But if you can see the finish line, if you know it can be done because someone has done it, you can persevere.
Hebrews 11:1 “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Faith is the link between what is visible (the challenges of our life) and what is invisible (God’s existence and our inheritance). Faith enables us to focus on those things not yet visible, instead of all our trials and troubles which are now so visible. Faith is not imagination. God is real and has manifested himself in history. Faith reminds us of his reality, and the reality of the future he has planned for us.
Hebrews 11:16 they desire a better country.
The heroes of the faith were able to persevere because they kept focusing on the “better country” rather than the present one. They sought God’s kingdom. That kept their eyes focused on the future, thus they were able to persevere in the present.
The author of Hebrews lists two different categories of perseverers.
Hebrews 11:33-35a “who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection.
These were the persevering winners. By faith they kept looking ahead and God allowed them to triumph over the difficult circumstances of their lives.
But please remember that there is a second category of perseverers.
Hebrews 11:35b-38 “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated- of whom the world was not worthy-wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
These perseverers did not see success over the trials and troubles they faced. They died without seeing the victory. Yet both of these groups were commended for their lives of perseverance!
We do not know what category our life stories will be placed in. It does not really matter. What matters is that we persevere, and finish with faith. When Jesus returns, all of us who have served him will be winners.