Earlier, the Hebrew author had told his audience that they “have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised” (Hebrews 10.36). The author then proceeded to give numerous examples in chapter 11 of men and women who through faith endured, even though they hadn’t yet received the promises (see Hebrews 11.13,39). In chapter 12 the author returns to his exhortation that they “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12.1). This endurance race is the main idea in Hebrews 12.1-17 (note the terms “endurance” and “endure” in vss. 1,2,3,7).
Our Inspiration To Endure (Hebrews 12.1-3)
The exhortation given to Christians is to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (vs. 1). The Christian walk is a marathon, not a sprint and the exhortation is to rid ourselves of anything and everything that would hinder us running the race. Sin certainly would be a hindrance to this race, but sin isn’t the only “encumbrance”. Recall that the people of faith “had opportunity to return” to their earthly countries, but they forsook that in their quest for the “heavenly one”. Everything, even home, should be left behind for this race.
But what would encourage and inspire us to leave everything behind and endure such a race? The author provides two sources of inspiration. The first is the people of faith described in chapter 11, referred to here as the “great cloud (or host) of witnesses”. The idea may be that they are witnessing / observing us as we run the race, or that their example bear witness to the fact that running with endurance is possible. Personally, I prefer the later interpretation, but it may be that both are intended. But the host of witnesses take a back seat compared to our main source of inspiration; we are to “fix our eyes on Jesus” and “consider Him who endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (vss. 2-3). His example is what should inspire us to likewise run with endurance. A few notes about what is said about Jesus in this passage:
- He is described as the “author and perfecter of faith”. “Author” is the same term translated as “forerunner” in Hebrews 6.20. “Jesus trod the way of faith first and brought it to completion” (Leon Morris, Expositors Bible Commentary).
- “for the joy set before Him” describes Jesus’ motivation for enduring; He knew what would result from His sacrifice!
- This was no easy race for Jesus, for He “endured the cross, despising the shame”. “It reflects the universal response of antiquity toward the horrific nature of crucifixion and underscores Christ’s utter humiliation in dying ignominiously like a slave or common criminal, in torment, on the cross” (William Lane, Word Biblical Commentary).
- But when Jesus endured, He received what was promised to Him: He “sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” And since He has received what was promised, so can we!
God’s Reason For Our Endurance (Hebrews 12.4-11)
The author reminds his audience that they had not yet experienced anything like what their Lord had been forced to endure; “you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin” (vs. 4). Jesus had been crucified by sinners, and while they had experienced persecution at the hands of sinners, they had not yet faced death. But all of this begs the question, “why must they be persecuted?” Without removing the guilt from their persecutions (they are termed “sinners” after all), the author states that God has good reason: discipline is good for them!
First, discipline shows that they are sons of God (vss. 5-8)! The author quotes from Proverbs 3.11-12 to remind his readers that discipline, even rebukes, are evident that God loves them. In fact, if God didn’t discipline them it would mean they weren’t His real sons! Second, discipline produces the results the Father desires to see in His children. His discipline means we will “live” (vs. 9), share in His holiness (vs. 10) and bear the “peaceful fruit of righteousness” (vs. 11). God has set a difficult race in front of us, a race requiring great endurance. His discipline insures that we can complete the race!
The Good Results Of Our Endurance (Hebrews 12.12-17)
This final section calls us to action, focusing on the good results which will come. However, the author does not call them to individual action, but to communal action. There were evidently some among them who felt too weak to run the race, thus the author exhorted them to “strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your (plural) feet…” (vss. 12-13). The result would be that the lame would find their strength; they would all be healed! How could they strengthen the entire community of believers?
- They should “pursue peace with all men” and mutual “sanctification” (vs. 14).
- They should do all they could to make sure “no one comes short of the grace of God” (vs. 15).
- They should take care that no “root of bitterness” arise among the believers, because bitterness would surely spread (vs. 15).
- And they should rid the body of any “immoral or godless person like Esau” (vss. 16-17). Esau stands in juxtaposition to the faithful of chapter 11, for while they forsook their earthly homes in search of a heavenly one, he sold his birthright for a single meal.
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