“Let us also lay aside every weight…” (Hebrews 12:1)
The letter to the Hebrews was written to the early church believers during a time of some pretty intense pressure. It was not easy to maintain faith in their hostile world.
The temptation for them was to grow weary or fainthearted – Hebrews 12:3.
The pressure was leading people to drop out of ‘the race’ that they had begun in. It was just easier to drop out, to quit. In this passage the writer is urging them to persevere – that involved deep resilience. In our own day and age, while persecution may not come in the form of over physical suffering, there is an ever growing issue with resilience. You only need to look at the drop out rate of people in churches across our city over the last few decades. For a multitude of reasons, people have grown weary – the call to press on is like the cry of a coach to his athlete spurring him to keep going all the way to the end.
In Hebrews 11, as Gordon MacDonald puts it in his book ‘The Resilient Life’ there is “a crescendo of enthusiasm as the writer looks back across the history of biblical people and notes the champion-like behaviour of people who had faith, who did not quit.” Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Joseph and Moses are on the list. Gideon too, so too David, Samuel as well as many unnamed heroes ‘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…some were tortured…others suffered mocking…stoned…killed…mistreated’ (Hebrews 11:33-38).
All these were commended through their faith (v 39) – the whole chapter is about faith. The entire chapter recounts the lives of the faithful; and the common characteristic is that they had a persevering, a resilient faith. These are the great ones who didn’t quit!
Here is the bible’s hall of fame – heroes of the faith. And then comes Hebrews 12:1 ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…
The image that is being used here is of a running race. We are at the games with a great crowd watching – witnessing the race.
The use of this picture is used a number of times by Paul – Galatians 2:2 – he refers to ‘running his race’ as he talks about his Christian life and direction, likewise in 1 Corinthians 9, and perhaps best known at the end of his life to Timothy ‘I have finished the race’ (2 Timothy 4:7).
Here in Hebrews, having recounted this great cloud of biblical witnesses which surrounds us, the writer urges first that anything which is of weight be put aside (12:1).
We might imagine the scene as the runners in the ancient stadium were summoned by the starting judge – ‘Runners, take your marks.’ That was the signal to strip off all clothing. Runners in the ancient games took it all off – they ran lightly clad or naked. Everything that hinders is how some translations put it.
‘Let us lay aside every weight’ – if you have been in a long running race you’ll know how significant what you are wearing can be. When I used to run long distance I was always keen to get light shoes for this reason.
Nowadays the knees have gone so I’ve turned to cycling. Some years ago I rode the Bowral Classic in the Southern Highlands. A 100 mile ‘race’ – 160km around Bowral and its countryside. The Bowral Classic is not strictly a race though it is timed. It’s getting to the finish line that is the real achievement. One of the biggest factors in cycling is dealing with the wind resistance. And, of course, how heavy the load is which is being carried. The ideal is to have light equipment and a minimum of things flapping or slowing one down. This wasn’t the time to ride with one of those shopping baskets at the front like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. I had a light weight road bike, I wore lycra shorts and shirts because they reduce the weight and wind resistance. I did have a large jacket but it was too large and would flap around and so hinder my riding. I lay that aside for this race – I did not want any hindrances like that if I’m going to make it to the end of a 160k ride – especially when there were quite a few hills on the ride.
What hinders the Christian’s race? There are ‘weights’ which we are to put aside, and notably ‘sin which clings so closely’ (Hebrews 12:1).
Our bike club also holds some informal races – one being to see how quickly we can ride a lap of a local Park. We ride at an early hour when there are no cars around because we don’t want to have to stop for obstructions, or be diverted because of cars turning in front of us.
When the author talks about ‘sin clinging closely’ he seems to have in mind the danger an athlete might face if the track isn’t completely clear – someone has left a bench or item in the way. Or it could refer to how ‘sin so easily distracts – it diverts us’. When Christians tolerate sin in their lives or community, it gets in the way. It can trip you up, divert you from the race, it can seriously restrict your chance of completing the course.
So he writes: “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 what then are we called to do? Run the RACE!
Brothers and sisters in Christ, PRESS ON: ‘let us also run with endurance the race that is set before us.’