|Volume 17 Number 4 April 2015||
It is easy to become discouraged while living the Christian life. Worldly pleasures, social pressures and physical afflictions all cause us to want to quit. However, we must not quit, because if we do, we lose everything for which we have labored. Becoming discouraged is nothing new, because some of the greatest men mentioned in the Bible became discouraged, such as Elijah and Jeremiah. Each wanted to quit serving God.
How can we prevent becoming discouraged? In Hebrews 12:1-2, the writer gives some very encouraging words to anyone who might be tempted to quit. “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Firstly, the writer tells us to put away some things. We must put away sin. Sin is all around us, and it seems difficult for some Christians to put it away. We must also put off the weight that can slow us down. Weights are those things that are not necessarily wrong in and of themselves, but they can draw us away from our true focus. We must put away anything that turns our attention away from Jesus.
Secondly, we must run the race with endurance. Notice that the writer compares the Christian life to a race. Some races require short bursts of energy and are over in a few seconds. Others require sustained efforts over a long period of time, maybe hours. The Christian life is much like a marathon. It is much more than emotionalism or a momentary spiritual experience. It is a life of service, one that requires energy and persistence. It is not easy, but unless we run with endurance, we obtain nothing.
We cannot expect eternal glory if we stop running before the end of our Christian race. “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9). Earlier in Hebrews 6, the writer referred to the example of Abraham. “And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise” (Hebrews 6:15). Similarly, Paul wrote that eternal life would be given “to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life” (Romans 2:7). Therefore, endurance is required for successfully running this “race of faith”!
Thirdly, we must focus on Jesus, or as the NASB translates it, “we must fix our eyes on Jesus.” Just as Peter began to sink in Matthew 14:30 when he looked at the waves and took his eyes off of Jesus, so we will veer off course in the Christian race if we look on something other than Jesus. Jesus is the Author and Finisher of our faith, and He helps us to finish our race. “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
Jesus succeeded in running the race by looking at “the joy set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2). We might wonder how He could have joy by looking at the cross. He looked at the joy of reversing the tragic defeat of man in the Garden of Eden and defeating Satan. He looked at the joy of His loved ones, the saved, entering heaven. With the anticipation of such “joy,” Jesus “endured the cross,” that is, the physical pain and suffering of the cross. The cross is possibly the most unspeakable way to die that man has ever invented, and Jesus endured it in order to save us.
Furthermore, Jesus “despised the shame.” To despise means to think little of it or to disregard it. We often do not think much about the shame of the cross, but crucifixion was also a very shameful way to die. The cross was reserved for the worst of all criminals. It was carried out publicly, and all the passersby would hurl mockery and ridicule at the one dying. Jesus endured that mockery (Matthew 27:27-31; 38-44).
Just as Jesus looked at the joy set before Him, so we must look to Jesus! Whatever trials may come our way, we can look to Jesus, because He suffered much worse.
We must “consider him” (Hebrews 12:3). The Greek word for “consider” in this verse is not used elsewhere in the New Testament, and it means to draw an analogy. This does not mean to just to think about, but to draw a comparison between Jesus’ suffering and ours in order to learn how to remain steadfast. Meditating upon our Lord will prevent us from becoming weary and discouraged. We must consider how He endured, not only on the cross, but even during His life He endured. Think about how weary and discouraged Jesus must have become. After all, His own people did not believe Him. His own disciples were often the ones with the weakest faith. He experienced the greatest suffering and received the greatest honor.
We should think more about our benefits from the cross than about the temporary shame that may come upon us. Paul emphasized the same thing when he wrote in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” When we look beyond the cross, like Jesus did, we will be much more likely to successfully run the race.
The words in Hebrews 12:1-2 were written to encourage some Hebrew Christians who were tempted to quit Christ. These same words will encourage us as well. Don’t quit!
Most will immediately recognize these words of Jesus that came from the cross, as recorded by Matthew (27:46) and Mark (15:34). What many may not realize is that Jesus is not the only person to ever utter these words. In fact, I believe Jesus, while in agony from His separation from the Father, was not saying these words for His own grief. Rather, I believe He was making a last attempt for people to open their eyes and open their hearts. Many may not realize this, but Jesus was calling to the attention of the Jewish witnesses Psalm 22 where David opened with these very words.
It is unclear in what situation David was when he wrote these words, but the parallels with Jesus’ crucifixion should open our eyes. Compare verses 6-8 with Matthew 27:39-44 and Mark 15:29-32. Also, think about verses 14-18. Dislocated joints and severe dehydration were common side effects of crucifixion. Piercing of the hands and the feet were common ways to secure a criminal to a cross. A way to speed up death was to break the legs; if they could not push themselves up, they could not breathe. However, remember that Jesus died before that could happen to Him (John 19:31-37). When Jesus had been crucified, the soldiers cast lots for His clothing (Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:23-24). Jesus called to mind words written 1,000 years prior that were coming to pass before their very eyes; let us not miss it as they did.